The key to beating Central Arkansas is simple: just keep the Bears out of multiple-overtime situations.
UCA (11-16, 5-11 Southland) comes to McNeese on the heels of a 106-99 double-overtime win over Lamar on Thursday night that clinched its first appearance in the Southland Conference basketball tournament.
That was nothing compared to what happened the last time they played the Cowboys, as a pair of improbable buzzer-beaters by Jarvis Garner eventually carried UCA to a 103-98 triple-overtime win in Conway, Ark., on Jan. 24.
That loss sent McNeese (12-14, 6-9) into a temporary tailspin that made simply reaching the conference tournament look like a challenge.
“We know we didn’t play well there. It’s not indicative to have 14 turnovers at half. We went 11-for-21 at the free-throw line,” said McNeese coach Dave Simmons. “We didn’t go up there with the focus we needed. But we came back and regrouped more than anything.”
The Cowboys have recovered to win four of their last five conference games, and have a shot at earning the No. 4 seed in the conference tournament and a first-round bye if they win out.
“This is the time to play well,” Simmons said.
Seniors Dontae Cannon and Jeremie Mitchell, part of a group of Cowboys players to play in multiple postseason tournaments, will be honored before their final home game.
“Those two guys have gone through tough years as seniors with a young group. To see them having success right now is the biggest thing,” Simmons said. “I think their focus is there. We’ve got to get them the same night firing on all pistons.”
The school will also honor multiple former players before the game to commemorate becoming the first Southland program with 300 all-time conference wins.
Really, there was no other team the Baggett twins could have played on their senior day.
Central Arkansas has been McNeese’s main foil the past two years, with the teams splitting their last six meetings including the Cowgirls’ victory in the 2011 conference championship game.
“It seems that it keeps coming down to something happening against this team,” Ashlyn Baggett said. “But no matter who it is we want to go out with a bang.”
A win keeps McNeese (15-11, 10-5) in the race for the regular-season conference crown. UCA (14-13, 7-9) is trying to stabilize itself after losing seven of its last eight games — though you can bet senior center Megan Herbert would love nothing more than to spoil the final home game of her biggest rivals.
“The twins love the competitive game and rivalry we’ve formed with Central Arkansas in women’s basketball,” said Cowgirls coach Brooks Donald Williams. “Megan Herbert is one of the best players in the league and has been her entire career, and so have Ash and Cait. It’s just been a very fun rivalry.”