The University of Central Arkansas has a few days to savor this one.
UCA took down the University of Arkansas at Little Rock 78-65 Wednesday night inside the Farris Center in Conway. It was the Bears' second victory against their central Arkansas neighbor of 34 miles since 1973-74 and UCA's second consecutive victory over the Trojans.
The Bears (50.9 percent) shot better than the Trojans (40.9). They had more assists (17) than UALR's 14. UCA made half of its 20 three-pointers, while the Trojans went 7-for-25 from behind the arc and missed 17 free throws.
Wednesday's victory was much-needed for a UCA (3-4) program striving to get away from routinely being penciled in as an easy win for NCAA Division I opponents.
"We're still building, but I like where we're at," said UCA Coach Russ Pennell. "I think the days of us being an easy victory for people are hopefully gone. We have [loftier] goals than this. But it's little steps at a time."
The Bears' 13-point victory was their first major victory of the season. UCA defeated Hendrix College and the University of the Ozarks, two Division III programs, at home in early November, before losing three consecutive on the road to Pittsburgh, Troy and Saint Louis.
For a young team with one senior starter, guard Thatch Unruh, and a group trying to find an identity one year removed from the Jordan Howard era, the Bears' win was a major boost heading into the final month of nonconference play.
UCA will travel to Louisville on Dec. 5. The Bears will then head to Little Rock to meet the Trojans in a Dec. 8 rematch inside the Jack Stephens Center.
"That's going to be a tough one over there," Pennell said. "[UALR Coach] Darrell [Walker] has done a really good job in a short amount of time. The thing is, they're athletic. They're real aggressive and they never back down."
Without the ability to lean on Howard, who made more career three-pointers (386) than any state Division I player ever, the Bears entered the 2018-19 season in search of scorers.
Sophomore guard DeAndre Jones led all scorers Wednesday with 23 points, his third consecutive game setting a career-high. Jones scored 19 against Troy, 22 at Saint Louis before the 23 against the Trojans.
"He just plays the game the right way," Pennell said. "He plays to win. One of the things when I was recruiting him, I asked him what made him so good? I like to find out what kids think. He told me, 'I've always been told I can't. That I'm took little or I'm too this or I'm too that.' He plays the game with that chip on his shoulder and that makes him an awfully good player."
Jones leads UCA with 14.7 points per game with freshman wing Eddy Kayouloud averaging 13.6. Sophomore center Hayden Koval and Unruh are each posting 10.3 points per contest.
"I know this about this team, we're young but I think we're talented," Pennell said. "If we keep doing what we're doing in practice and keep growing as a group, we're going to have some really fun times in this building for the next few years."
Sports on 11/30/2018
Print Headline: Bears invigorated in the early going