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Ask any college basketball coach at this time of year, and they'll likely note this is the point of the season where the grind of the schedule can take a toll.

"This time of year ... everyone in the country is tired," University of Central Arkansas men's interim Coach Anthony Boone said last week. "Everybody's feeling sluggish."

Having a week devoid of a midweek conference game can be a welcome sign. This is time used for a mix of rest, regrouping and fine-tuning.

With each having six days off since their last game, the University of Arkansas at Little Rock and Arkansas State University men's teams figure to be well rested when they meet for the first time this season Saturday at the Jack Stephens Center in Little Rock. Tipoff is set for 2 p.m.

UALR (17-7, 11-2 Sun Belt Conference) sits atop the conference standings with a three-game lead over three teams tied for second place. ASU (15-9, 7-6) sits four games back in a fifth-place tie.

How teams approach a long week vary.

UALR Coach Darrell Walker said earlier this week that he gave his team days off on Sunday and Monday after the Trojans' 93-86 home victory over Appalachian State on Saturday. He said the Trojans were set to practice Tuesday and Wednesday, then scrimmage Thursday for around 30 minutes.

"I don't think you can go a whole week without having some type of officials in the building making some calls in a game-like situation," Walker said.

ASU junior guard Marquis Eaton said Thursday that the Red Wolves got Sunday off before returning to practice Monday. This was on the heels of the Red Wolves' 83-77 home loss to Coastal Carolina on Saturday, which saw Coach Mike Balado sharply call out his team's defensive play after the game.

"We went hard Monday, kind of like a summer practice, just to refine things and just to get back to the basics on our defensive end mostly," Eaton said. "[Balado] broke the whole defense down and then put it back together."

The Red Wolves had a lighter practice Wednesday, Eaton said. Balado spent time on the road recruiting before getting back to Jonesboro on Thursday, according to a team spokesman.

UALR facilitator

UALR sophomore point guard Markquis Nowell has turned himself into a strong candidate for the Sun Belt player of the year award.

Nowell ranks third in the league in scoring (17.2 ppg), second in assists (5.0 apg), second in steals (2.4 spg) and second in three-point percentage (39.3%).

In his past two games, Nowell has totaled 22 assists, including a career-high 13 in UALR's victory over Appalachian State on Saturday. Nowell, who was named the Sun Belt co-player of the week Monday, also scored 17 points to post the first double-double of his career.

"Just making the right play for my teammates, setting my teammates up," Nowell said. "My job is to make everybody better and put people in a position to win."

Over his past four outings, Nowell is averaging 8.0 apg.

Bouncing back

University of Central Arkansas women's Coach Sandra Rushing was critical last week of her team's recent defensive performances, but back-to-back victories with improved defense have put the Sugar Bears (10-11, 6-6 Southland Conference) back on track.

UCA beat Northwestern (La.) State on the road 51-44 on Saturday before the Sugar Bears returned home Wednesday to beat Lamar 53-29.

The Sugar Bears held Northwestern State (5-16, 2-10) to 33.3% shooting from the floor and 18.2% from the three-point line. UCA limited Lamar (9-12, 5-7) to 17.2% shooting and 16.7% from beyond the arc.

The 29 points UCA allowed against Lamar were its third-lowest total of the season and lowest ever during Southland play.

"It was just a great defensive game for us," Rushing said. "I thought that defensively everybody was in sync. I thought we did a great job of helping each other and trusting each other on defense."

UCA sits in eighth place in the Southland standings.

UAPB men skid

The University of Arkansas-Pine Bluff men's basketball team has been on the wrong end of back-to-back tight games lately.

The Golden Lions (3-18, 2-7 Southwestern Athletic Conference) fell 49-47 to Grambling State on Saturday in Pine Bluff before losing again at home Monday to Jackson State 49-45.

Prior to those two games, UAPB had been 3-1 in games decided by single digits this season.

UAPB, which currently ranks last in the SWAC in scoring offense (52.5 points per game), is on a six-game losing streak and has failed to reach 60 points in all six defeats.

The Golden Lions host Alabama A&M (5-15, 2-7) on Saturday in Pine Bluff. Tipoff is 7 p.m.

Sports on 02/07/2020

Print Headline: Trojans, Wolves get break

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