Only 34 miles separate the University of Central Arkansas and the University of Arkansas at Little Rock, but until last year the schools were so much further apart in men's basketball.
In December in Conway, the Bears defeated the Trojans 69-54 for the first time since 1973-1974. UALR's 11-game winning streak against its neighbor was snapped.
"Until last year when we won, it was so lopsided that I don't think you can call it a rivalry," UCA Coach Russ Pennell said. "I mean, you've got to win some games before it's ever a rivalry."
UCA has two chances in the next two weeks to establish a real rivalry. The Bears will host the Trojans at 7 p.m. inside the Farris Center in Conway tonight, and UCA and UALR will meet again Dec. 8 at the Jack Stephens Center in Little Rock.
The Bears and Trojans have had similar starts to this season. Both teams are loaded with young players, many of whom are seeing their first collegiate action.
UCA (2-4) is riding a three-game losing streak after trips to Pittsburgh, Troy and Saint Louis, the preseason favorite to win the Atlantic 10.
Per usual, UCA's nonconference schedule is light with home games. Wednesday's duel with UALR will be UCA's first home game since Nov. 12.
"Anytime you play them, you've got people in Conway that went to UALR or vice versa," Pennell said. "There's great interest in the game. It's wonderful. It's great for the state and for the central Arkansas area.
"We understand for our fans and for others that it's a really big basketball game."
The Trojans (3-3) are 1-3 in their past four games, losing to No. 5 Nevada, Tulsa and the University of Arkansas at Pine Bluff 75-66 at home Saturday.
Six games in, UALR is searching for a stronger defense. The Trojans can score (80.7 points per game), but they are giving up just as many (80.8), which is the problem, first-year Coach Darrell Walker said.
"Besides [an 83-67 victory at] Tennessee State, we have not played a full game where we really defended for 40 minutes," Walker said. "That's what I've been looking for the whole time from my team. Yeah, we've been scoring some points and we've been giving up some points, and I'm not happy about that."
UALR's starting two guards and primary ballhandlers, freshman Markquis Nowell (12.0 points per game) and sophomore Jaizec Lottie (8.8), are each shooting below 40 percent from the field -- two underwhelming figures Walker attributes to poor shot selection.
"I talked to all my guards [Monday], and they understand what they have to do," he said.
Tonight will be UALR's final road game before a four-game home stand. UALR will host Sam Houston State, Bradley, UCA and Miles College, a Division II school, in the first 11 days of December.
Including the Trojans' 97-76 home victory Friday against Howard and their loss to UAPB on Saturday, UALR's trip to Conway is its third of seven consecutive games in central Arkansas.
"It's a stretch where we're at home and should be comfortable," Walker said. "You have your routine. This is a way we can hopefully win some games and protect home."
Today’s men’s game
UALR AT CENTRAL ARKANSAS
WHEN 7 p.m.
WHERE Farris Center, Conway
RECORDS UALR 3-3; Central Arkansas 2-4
Coach Russ Pennell (shown) and the Central Arkansas Bears will play their first home game since Nov. 12 today when they host the UALR Trojans.
Sports on 11/28/2018
Print Headline: Bears, Trojans nurture rivalry