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The University of Central Arkansas men's basketball team saw its promising start to the Southland Conference season come to an abrupt halt after a 5-2 start in conference.

On Tuesday, Coach Russ Pennell shed light on what has caused a season-altering slide since a 76-71 victory over New Orleans on Jan. 23.

Since then, UCA (11-18, 6-10 Southland) has lost eight of nine games and is tied for ninth place to start the final week of the regular season. The Southland's top eight teams qualify for the league tournament. At the moment, UCA is not one of those teams.

"It's been a real challenge from a coaching standpoint and our staff to try to figure out what's going on," said Pennell, who points to the team's inexperience as one factor for the skid. "I haven't been able to pinpoint just one thing. I think it's a bunch of little things that have added up. I guess the biggest thing is the inconsistency of certain guys."

At the beginning of the season, Pennell said he was interested in finding out which Bears would fill the void left behind by graduated guard Jordan Howard, the Southland's all-time leader in three-pointers made at 386.

Months later, the question Pennell hoped would answer itself has not.

"When you lose 4,000 points like we did with Jordan Howard and [former guard] Mathieu Kamba, it takes you a minute to figure out who's going to be the next guy," Pennell said. "So I think the inconsistency has held us back a little bit."

The inconsistencies Pennell cited come from a variety of sources. In some losses, UCA simply didn't shoot well enough to win.

The Bears shot 44.0 percent from the field and 36.2 percent from the three-point arc in their first 20 games, which included two victories against the University of Arkansas at Little Rock on Nov. 28 and Dec. 8.

In their past nine games, UCA is shooting 39.3 percent from the field and 31.4 percent on three-pointers. In five of the nine games, UCA shot worse than 40 percent from the field.

"That's been one of the things in this losing streak," Pennell said. "We've missed a lot of open shots. That's concerned me a little bit, because I think we're better shooters ... but there have been a couple games where we couldn't hit the broad side of a barn. Basketball is still a game of making baskets."

The recent issues have solutions and are not prompting a seismic shift to UCA's roster once the season ends, Pennell said.

The Bears routinely have started four underclassmen this season in freshman guard Khaleem Bennett and forward Eddy Kayouloud, and sophomore center Hayden Koval and guard DeAndre Jones.

"I don't look at it like a lost year," Pennell said. "In fact, it's troubling to not win those games, but I guess the good part for me is we're in those games and I think it's very fixable and something we'll get better at. I don't see this huge flaw and it's like, 'Gosh, we've got to go and rebuild everything again.' I don't think that's the case at all."

With two games remaining -- including a 6:30 p.m. tip tonight at Sam Houston State and a 3 p.m. Saturday tip at Northwestern State -- the Bears have not punted on the season.

UCA can qualify for the Southland's eight-team tournament, but it will have to do so by defeating the regular-season champion Sam Houston State (20-9, 15-1) and Northwestern (La.) State (11-18, 6-10), which has the same record as UCA and is also fighting for entrance into the tournament.

"The task is pretty big," Pennell said. "But it is doable."

Photo by Mitchell PE Masilun
UCA head coach Russ Pennell looks at the scoreboard during their game against UALR at the Jack Stephens Center Saturday, Dec 8, 2018, in Little Rock.

Sports on 03/06/2019

Print Headline: Pennell analyzes season's downturn

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