That old idiom holds special meaning for the two teams of Stephen F. Austin University that call William R. Johnson Coliseum their home court. Both teams have compiled impressive records in the 35+ seasons of playing there, and the Ladyjacks (14-3, 6-0 SLC) look to rely on that trend once again for help in perhaps the biggest game of the 2017-18 campaign thus far. Having seized first place atop the league standings with an impressive victory over Abilene Christian on Wednesday, the 'Jacks now face a Central Arkansas squad on that has been a bane to them in recent memory.
Tip-off for the contest on Wednesday night is set for 7:00 p.m., and will be shown on ESPN3 for those unable to make it to the Coliseum. Fans can also listen in to the live call of the action on FM 94.7 KVLL, with Bobby Mauro's smooth delivery narrating all the action, and are encouraged to read the attached game notes and follow along with live stats ahead of and during the matchup.
Wednesday night's showdown is of special importance to the Ladyjacks, and with UCA representing the lone Southland program that SFA head coach Mark Kellogg has yet to beat (0-4 in three seasons), the chance to get a statement win halfway through the season is too good to pass up. Working in its favor is SFA's distinct home court advantage, as anyone who has seen one of SFA's nine games there this season has been treated to a victory. On top of the perfect 9-0 mark at William R. Johnson Coliseum, SFA is also the hottest team in the Southland, having won eight straight games and tying for the league lead (with UCA) in wins, with 14.
If recent history holds true, then Wednesday's matchup is one that will be defined by, above all else, defense. Few teams are of the same ilk as Central Arkansas in terms of defensive proficiency this season, and just one team (Green Bay, 45.7) allows fewer points per game to opponents than the Sugar Bears (48.1). Central Arkansas' stunning upset at the hands of New Orleans last Wednesday was a rarity both because the loss was the first for UCA at the Farris Center in 382 days and because it was the first time the Sugar Bears had surrendered more than 50 points to a Southland opponent this season. After giving up 50 points to Texas A&M-Corpus-Christi in the Southland opener, the Sugar Bears have suffocated the offenses of Lamar (39 pts), Nicholls (48 pts) and most recently Abilene Christian (45) in short order.
Without a doubt, UCA has faced and handled a litany of talented scorers already in its Southland schedule, but in the Ladyjacks they will find no easy target. Having fallen to Central Arkansas in each of the three head-to-head matchups last season, including a 60-35 thumping in the Southland Tournament title game, the Ladyjacks need no added motivation to stall the skid in the series with UCA, which at 10-9 is the closest of any series between SFA and a Southland foe. The Ladyjacks offense is one of the Southland's best, averaging 72.7 points per game in conference bouts to rank third, and featuring a balanced and deep offensive attack in which no one player is the focal point and everyone contributes. In the win over Abilene Christian, the major contributions came from Stevi Parker (18 points/11 rebounds) and freshman guard Marissa Banfield, who came in to spell Taylor Jackson after early foul trouble and responded by tying a season-high with 14 points (3-6 3-Pt.). Lovisa Brunnberg (nine points), Chanell Hayes (eight points) and Imani Johnson (seven points) also chipped in notable performances in the victory.
While the percentages from the field in the ACU win weren't the highest they've been this season, SFA's offense delivered the type of performance they've come to be known for at the free throw line, converting 24-30 attempts (80 percent). Currently ranking fourth in the country in free throw makes (322) and ninth in attempts (439), the Ladyjacks have at times this season ranked first and second in those categories, respectively, and that ability to get to the line and make those attempts count has been a boon to SFA on offense all season. UCA commits an average of 14.3 fouls per game, and have yet to be burned by the fouls they have committed in conference play, as Southland opponents are shooting just 54.5 percent from the line against them, the lowest mark in the conference.
At home this season, the Ladyjacks have posted some impressive numbers, highlighted by a scoring margin of +33.00 and a defense that allows just 49.7 points per game at William R. Johnson Coliseum. Teams are also averaging 26 turnovers per game against SFA in home contests, and the Ladyjacks have posted a shooting line of .440/.327/.732 (FG/3Pt/FT) in their nine home games this season.
For the Sugar Bears, the key to their success has been team defense, highlighted by the performances of guards Taylor Baudoin and Kamry Orr (14.6 and 14.3 ppg, respectively), as well as the post presence of 6-3 forward Kierra Jordan down low. Jordan has posted double-doubles in six of eight conference games, while Baudoin and Orr have three Southland Player of the Week accolades between them this season. At the helm for the Sugar Bears is long-tenured coach Sandra Rushing, who is in her 29th season as a head coach, and sixth at UCA. Rushing has guided the Sugar Bears to back-to-back Southland Conference Tournament titles and 20 win campaigns in each of her past two seasons.
The game is the opening salvo of a home and away series between the teams in the regular season, and with their respective positions atop the conference standings, a possible tournament meeting is not out of the realm of possibilities as well. In order to even the momentum of the series and seize the opening game of the season series, the Ladyjacks will need to deliver another top notch performance to hold serve at home and come away with the pivotal victory on Wednesday evening.