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story.lead_photo.caption Coach Russ Pennell and the University of Central Arkansas men’s basketball team will begin play in their third consecutive Southland Conference Tournament today when they take on Texas A&M-Corpus Christi in Katy, Texas. - Photo by Mitchell PE Masilun

Weeks ago, the University of Central Arkansas' men's basketball team was in real trouble.

The Bears lost seven games in a row from Jan. 26 to Feb. 23. Unless UCA (13-18, 8-10) had some sort of awakening, the postseason looked improbable.

UCA won three of its last four regular-season games, including a win-and-you're-in 70-63 victory Saturday at Northwestern State, which sent UCA to the Southland Conference Tournament in Katy, Texas, and knocked the Demons out.

"Three years in a row you get to go to Katy," UCA Coach Russ Pennell said after Saturday's victory. "And this one is really sweet because we were dead in the water a couple of weeks ago. But they just didn't give in and they just kept battling."

The Bears earned the No. 7 seed in the Southland Tournament and will take on No. 6 seed Texas A&M-Corpus Christi (14-17, 9-9) at 7:30 p.m. today at the Merrell Center in Katy, Texas. The winner of UCA and Texas A&M-Corpus Christi will face No. 3 seed Southeastern Louisiana at 7:30 p.m. Thursday.

"Everyone is 0-0," Pennell said.

It has been more than two months since the Bears and Texas-A&M-Corpus Christi met. To open Southland play, the Islanders defeated the Bears 87-75 on Jan. 2 at the American Bank Center in Corpus Christi, Texas.

"It's been a while since we've played them," Pennell said. "I think we're both better teams now than we were then."

Pennell remembered the first half against the Islanders. UCA fell into a 42-34 hole at halftime and trailed by as many as 16 points in the first half.

UCA put together a 41-point second half, and tied the game with 8:19 remaining.

Texas A&M-Corpus Christi shot 23 more free throws than the Bears, and went 27 for 35 from the free-throw line. UCA made 15 of 31 three-pointers, which was the most UCA made in a single game this season.

The Islanders finished the regular season winning their final three games.

Texas A&M-Corpus Christi, which is 7-1 vs. UCA in the past eight games, and UCA have never met in the Southland Tournament.

UCA men vs. Texas A&M-CC

WHAT Southland Conference Tournament

WHEN 7:30 p.m. Central today

WHERE Merrell Center, Katy, Texas

RECORDS UCA 13-18, 8-10 Southland Conference; Texas A&M-CC 14-17, 9-9

SERIES Texas A&M-CC leads 13-2.

RADIO KUCA-FM, 91.3, in Conway

INTERNET ESPN-Plus

PROBABLE STARTING LINEUPS

UCA

POS. NAME, HT, YR PPG RPG

G DeAndre Jones, 5-11, So. 12.5 3.8

G Thatch Unruh, 6-5, Sr. 12.4 3.8

F Eddy Kayouloud, 6-7, Fr. 9.6 5.0

F Tanner Schmit, 6-8, Sr. 5.2 2.3

C Hayden Koval, 7-0, So. 12.3 6.0

COACH Russ Pennell (46-107 in his fifth season at UCA, 140-165 in 11th season overall)

TEXAS A&M-CC

POS. NAME, HT, YR PPG RPG

G Kareem South, 6-2, Jr. 14.1 5.2

G Jashawn Talton, 6-1, So. 8.9 5.0

G Emmanuel Toney, 6-2, Sr. 7.9 3.4

G Jake Babic, 6-5, Sr. 5.0 2.7

F Elijah Schmidt, 6-8, Jr. 6.2 5.5

COACH Willis Wilson (124-131 in eighth season at Texas A&M-CC, 342-378 overall in 24th season)

TEAM COMPARISON

UCA Texas A&M-CC

72.4 Points for 66.9

76.3 Points against 66.2

-2.6 Rebound margin +3.7

-1.4 Turnover margin -0.3

42.7 FG pct. 43.3

35.3 3-pt pct. 32.9

72.4 FT pct. 69.2

CHALK TALK The winner of No. 7 seed UCA and No. 6 seed Texas A&M-CC will advance to play No. 3 seed Southeastern Louisiana at 7:30 p.m. Thursday at the Merrell Center. ... Texas A&M-CC defeated UCA 87-75 on Jan. 2.

Sports on 03/13/2019

Print Headline: Pennell excited Bears found way to tourney

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