Trojans, Sugar Bears reacquaint on court

Why a pair of schools just more than 30 miles apart didn’t play regularly never made much sense to University of Central Arkansas Athletic Director Brad Teague.

So in August 2018, with the support of Gov. Asa Hutchinson, UCA and the University of Arkansas-Little Rock established the Governor’s I-40 Showdown, a series that mandates annual matchups in mutually sponsored sports between the Bears and Trojans.

In the first two years, it’s been mainly UCA — the Bears won the 2018-19 edition 26.5-16.5 and after a one-year pause due to covid-19, UCA took last year’s 23-15. The Bears are up 14-2 this time around — with all fall sport matchups complete — but Saturday is the first of the schools’ two basketball meetings, and the Trojans will likely have the advantage in both games over the next 10 days.

But it’s less about the outcome of the series for Teague — although he surely hopes UCA retains the Governor’s Trophy this year — and more about building competition between local rivals.

“Our student-athletes and coaches like to see who won and who lost throughout the year,” Teague said. “They feel good when they win and not so good when they don’t, so I think it’s pretty healthy for both schools.”

Strangely enough, there’s just one Arkansas native on the two women’s basketball rosters set to meet this afternoon at the Jack Stephens Center. UALR graduate student Krystan Vornes, an Osceola native, played her first semester at Tulsa before transferring and joining the Trojans.

With a bevy of transfers and international prospects on both sides, there isn’t as much in-state flavor — something that isn’t necessarily the norm with a pair of coaches in Joe Foley and Sandra Rushing, both of whom have plenty of experience around the Natural State.

It’s why Rushing brought Tiffany Phillips — a former UCA assistant and longtime Arkansas high school basketball coach — back to Conway for a second stint as an assistant coach.

Phillips is focused on recruiting in-state players and the Bears have already signed a pair for next year’s class in Bryant guard Parris Atkins and Lonoke forward Kaleigh Thompson.

But they won’t be on the floor until next season, and the Bears know there’s a steep task in front of them this afternoon, matching up with a UALR squad that hung around until the fourth quarter against No. 17 Texas A&M.

“I respect Joe Foley and what he’s done — we go way back,” Rushing said. “They’re very physical and athletic. I want us to compete, play hard and get some more experience. Our schedule [including games at Kansas State and Oklahoma] has been hard.”

Women’s basketball


WHEN 2 p.m. today

WHERE Jack Stephens Center, Little Rock

RECORDS Central Arkansas 3-3, UALR 4-4

TV None

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