ABILENE – Central Arkansas entered Saturday's game against ACU with the top-ranked defense in the league and the Sugar Bears certainly played to that ranking as they handed the Wildcats their first home loss of the season, 67-54, at Moody Coliseum.
The loss drops the Wildcats to 11-7 overall and 2-1 in the Southland Conference (7-1 at home), while the win pushes Central Arkansas to 10-6 and 4-1. ACU will be back in action Thursday at 5:30 p.m. when it hosts Lamar at Moody Coliseum.
Going into the game the Sugar Bears were allowing 58.3 points per game, which led the league in scoring defense, and those rankings proved true as ACU posted its second-lowest point total of the season. UCA held ACU -- one of the top shooting teams in the league -- to just 37.5 percent from the floor (18 of 48), including a meager 26.3 percent from 3-point range (5 of 19).
The five made 3-point field goals are tied for the lowest number the Wildcats have made in a game this season (5 vs. Grand Canyon on Nov. 24 and vs. Tulsa on Dec. 14), and the 19 attempts are tied for the second-lowest in a game this season.
ACU was also hampered by the fact that its second-leading scorer -- sophomore guard Whitney West -- failed to score in the game. And for the second straight game, the Wildcats weren't effective in the first half. Thursday night they trailed Oral Roberts by eight points late in the first half before finally cutting the deficit to four at the break. Saturday, however, the Wildcats trailed by 11 at the half (35-24) after scoring their second-fewest first-half points of the season.
The Sugar Bears immediately scored the first six points of the second half on a bucket by Brianna Mullins, a jump by Courtney Duever and a pair of free throws by Mullins to give them a 41-24 lead with 17:50 left in the game. That lead eventually grew to 20 points (52-32) with 9:48 to play before the Wildcats put together a 17-4 run over a 5:40 span to cut the lead to 56-49 with 4:08 to play.
Lizzy Dimba, who tied her career-high with 17 points, led the surge with five points, along with Alexis Mason. Jessica Elkins had four for ACU, while Renata Marquez splashed in a 3-pointer for the Wildcats.
ACU was able to keep the deficit at seven for a couple of minutes before Duever – who had 15 points and 14 rebounds and dominated play inside – hit a jumper in the lane, followed by a pair of free throws by Micah Rice with 2:26 to play to push the lead back to 11 points (62-51).
The Sugar Bears, in fact, hit 7 of 8 free throws down the stretch to keep the Wildcats at a safe distance.