Crowds catching on with UCA

Tony Kemper
Tony Kemper

CONWAY -- There isn't much mystery left to discover about the University of Central Arkansas women's basketball program.

Just over a year after Tony Kemper was named the head coach of the Sugar Bears, his remodeled team has its identity -- on and off the court.

UCA hosts Saint Louis today at 6:30 p.m. at the Farris Center for a first-round WNIT matchup. It will be the first national postseason appearance for the Sugar Bears since 2018 and just the third time in program history they will host a game.

The Sugar Bears are 14-0 at home this season, including two wins in the ASUN Tournament to advance to the championship game. What started as a fun tidbit about the benefits of sleeping in your own bed has become a legitimate data point for teams coming to Conway.

"These last few games, we've had such an amazing crowd turnout, which I think has just made the experience even better and made it better for us just having people cheering for us and just being on our side," junior center Cheyenne Banks said. "I don't know what kind of magic this court's got, this gym's got, but it's definitely working."

"At some point in time, in that locker room, they just got really good at winning here," Kemper said. "To my knowledge, we line up and do the same stuff, just do it better at home."

While the on-court success at the Farris Center has not wavered this season, the fan support was delayed. A hangover from last season's 8-18 finish and the uncertainty of what Kemper could do in his first season compounded for the Sugar Bears, who regularly saw home attendance of less than 500 throughout the season.

Banks said the lack of fan support got to the players early on, playing in front of small crowds in comparison to others around the conference.

"All year, especially at the beginning, people didn't know what this program was going to be like, what the women's program was going to be like this year," she said. "And we were sad, you know?"

But winning solves lots of problems, and last weekend, for the ASUN Tournament semifinal against Eastern Kentucky, that problem was solved as the Sugar Bears drew the largest crowd for either the men's or women's team this season with 1,845.

"The last game that we had at home, we were so happy just to have people come in and cheering for us, being there for us," Banks continued. "It was amazing."

UCA will return up to 11 players on its roster, including all five starters and ASUN Sixth Woman of the Year Kinley Fisher. The extended season provide Kemper and his staff the luxury of working toward next season with the same group and with bigger goals.

"I think it's a really good opportunity for them to continue to grow, hopefully get used to playing in the game that we played in last week," Kemper said. "And then playing deep into March."

Tonight the Sugar Bears will look to ride their momentum against a sizable Billikens squad.

Saint Louis starts four players 5-11 or taller, compared to just two for UCA. The Billikens are led by guard Kyla McMakin (17.2 points per game) and forward Peyton Kennedy (15.9), both standing 5-11.

Kemper said the Sugar Bears will look to counter with the speed provided by guard Jade Upshaw, Randrea Wright and Kinley Fisher.

"We probably play a little bit faster than them," he said. "So I think if we can get stops. ... That's how we want to play here and how we played here at the end of the year. Our defense has fueled [an] advantage that we have really done a good job of making people pay."



WHEN 6:30 p.m. today

WHERE Farris Center, Conway

RECORDS UCA 21-11; Saint Louis 17-18

SERIES First meeting

TV None

RADIO KUCA-FM, 91.3, Conway


First-round schedule


Southern Miss 79, Ala.-Birmingham 74

Purdue Fort Wayne 83, E. Kentucky 75

Montana 92, Boise State 64

TODAY’S GAMES All times Central

Monmouth (21-9) at Buffalo (19-13), 5 p.m.

Albany (25-6) at Colgate (18-13), 5 p.m.

Bowling Green (16-14) at Butler (14-16), 6 p.m.

College of Charleston (21-9) at South Carolina Upstate (16-15), 6 p.m.

Stetson (17-14) at Florida International (20-11), 6 p.m.

Saint Louis (16-18) at Central Arkansas (21-11), 6:30 p.m.

Northern Colorado (15-15) at Texas-San Antonio (17-14), 6:30 p.m.

Grambling St. (22-9) at Oral Roberts (21-10), 7 p.m.

Illinois-Chicago (18-15) at Southern Indiana (24-6), 7 p.m.

Cal Poly (17-13) at Pacific (18-14), 8 p.m.


Le Moyne (18-13) at Niagara (20-13), 6 p.m.

North Carolina-Greensboro (21-11) at North Carolina A&T (20-11), 6 p.m.

UC Riverside (18-13) at South Dakota (21-12), 7 p.m.

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