Arkansas-Pine Bluff’s play on the basketball court during the last two months has reflected the urgency of a team trying to win the SWAC regular-season championship.
It also reflects a strong pursuit for a high seed in the upcoming SWAC tournament — that is if the team can participate.
The regular season — and, as it stands for now, the season — will come to an end for the Golden Lions (15-14, 14-3 SWAC) after tonight’s road game against Mississippi Valley State (5-22, 5-12). Both teams, along with seven others across the country, are banned from the postseason for a low Academic Progress Rate.
But UAPB coach George Ivory said he doesn’t get the feeling the season will end so soon.
“Not really,” he said Wednesday. “I’m just keeping perspective. I’m looking at all the information that we’ve turned into the NCAA, and it looks like we’re over 900. … I think our score is 950 or something like that.”
In June the NCAA handed Ivory’s team and nine others across the country a postseason ban for failing to reach the APR benchmark. UAPB’s four-year APR was 885, which is 15 points shy of the minimum needed to avoid sanctions, but Ivory blamed the score on an incorrect roster submitted to the NCAA to figure to score.
Whether the NCAA will issue a decision on whether to overturn the ban, or when, is anyone’s guess. That leaves the Lions’ postseason fate a mystery, with the SWAC tournament set to begin 12 days from today in Garland, Texas.
“We’ve alerted (the NCAA) that it’s a time situation,” Ivory said. “They were looking at it (Wednesday).”
The Lions are a half-game behind co-leaders Southern and Texas Southern (both 14-2 in the SWAC) in conference standings.
UAPB has tried to get its ban overturned since the NCAA announced the penalty last June. In the meantime, the Lions have made this season count in many ways.
They achieved an unbeaten home record, securing the 9-0 mark after a wild finish to a 73-72 victory over Jackson State on Monday night. With the win, they also avoided the potential of another losing season and can secure their first winning record in three seasons by beating Valley tonight. For the second year in a row, their win total has increased from the previous season by four games.
“That just shows the character the guys have,” Ivory said. “The way they played is tremendous. The things they’ve accomplished are tremendous. They could have turned it in and decided not to play hard, but they didn’t do that.”
Now, UAPB’s five seniors — Mitchell Anderson, Lazabian Jackson, Kyle Jones, Terrell Kennedy and Demetrius Smith — can only make this last game count like they have all others this season, not knowing if a win will mean a happy ending to a season cut short.
“We’ve got to come in and finish what we started,” Ivory said he told the seniors. “You always put things in the hands of God.”
UAPB at Mississippi Valley State
• When: Today, women’s game at 5:30 p.m., men’s game at 7:30 p.m.
• Where: Harrison Complex, Itta Bena, Miss.
• Records: Women, UAPB 10-17, 6-11 SWAC; Valley 15-13, 12-5. Men, UAPB 15-14, 14-3; Valley 5-22, 5-12.
• Last meetings: Women, Valley 71-64; men, UAPB 79-64, both in Pine Bluff on Jan. 2.