Sugar Bears rumble by Dolphins

UCA’s Kinley Fisher (1) goes up for a shot Thursday night against Jacksonville at the Farris Center in Conway.
(UCA Athletics photo)
UCA’s Kinley Fisher (1) goes up for a shot Thursday night against Jacksonville at the Farris Center in Conway. (UCA Athletics photo)

CONWAY -- The University of Central Arkansas women's basketball team has found its recipe for success. Now it's all about doing that consistently.

UCA defeated Jacksonville 71-58 on Thursday night at the Farris Center to win its fourth in a row and for the ninth time in 10 games.

The Sugar Bears (15-6, 7-1 AUSN) set a season-high with 15 assists. Randrea Wright (14) and Kinley Fisher (13) each scored in double figures. Jade Upshaw finished with a team-high 18 points.

For a team that was nearly built from scratch last spring after Coach Tony Kemper was hired, there seems to be little uncertainty remaining for the Sugar Bears.

UCA is playing not like a rag-tag underdog, but like a team that believes it can compete at the top of the ASUN.

Even with an admittedly uneven offense showing in the first half Thursday night, UCA took a 31-25 lead into halftime thanks largely to Upshaw's 14 first-half points.

The Sugar Bears came out even colder on offense as the Dolphins (7-14, 2-5) closed the lead to three points, but UCA found its footing to close the third quarter on an 18-9 run.

A key to that run -- and to the Sugar Bears' overall dominance inside -- was freshman forward Elizabeth Abiara. She scored six of her eight points in the third quarter, adding to UCA's 40-20 advantage on points in the lane.

"Liz was good, she was very active," Kemper said. "Her and Cheyenne [Banks] are pretty different players. And so it's a nice change of pace when you flip back and forth. I don't really ever know how that's going to play out. I thought Liz against [Jacksonville] was a little bit better tonight."

For the most part, UCA accomplished its defensive goals of shutting off everyone but Edyn Battle and forcing her into tough shots. But time and time again Battle hit tough shots in the faces of the Sugar Bears and finished with a game-high 25 points.

"She was really good," Kemper said. To be honest, we wanted to do a better job than we did. But I think credit probably goes to her and her shot-making ability on some tough shots in the paint with hands outstretched and things like that."

Upshaw went cold in the second half, scoring just four points. But as has been the case all season, Fisher and Wright picked up the scoring load to score eight and 11 points, respectively.

"I think it's an important part of what's made us successful to this point in the year," Kemper said of his guard rotation.

UCA went blow-for-blow in the fourth quarter to extend its lead by one and iced the win with two free throws late by Wright.

"We're playing pretty well. We're finding a way to close out games," Kemper said. "We weren't great on offense in the first half, good enough to have a lead. I thought we were much better the second half on offense and you know, we talk to this team a lot about consistency. Just trying to string together good defensive possessions with good offensive possessions, and I think when you look at the overall 40 minutes, that's probably in a way what happens."

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