Weevils, Blossoms return to action against Tigers

MONTICELLO — The Arkansas-Monticello men’s and women’s basketball teams entered the recent holiday break on six- and two-game winning streaks, respectively.

Boll Weevils head coach Allen Sharpe and Cotton Blossoms head coach Tanya Ray are hoping a nearly two-week layoff won’t disrupt the momentum their teams built heading into the break.

They will find out when UAM hosts East Central (Okla.) on Thursday at Steelman Fieldhouse with the women’s game starting at 5:30 p.m. and the men’s game set to follow.

“I think we can keep it up,” Sharpe said. “I told them we should be able to keep it up.

“We still have something to play for.”

Ray felt the same way.

“I hope we can carry that over,” she said. “Obviously, you want to go into the break on a winning streak.

“We’re just trying to continue that momentum and carry it over.”

Ray and Sharpe both felt UAM have an advantage being able to play its first two post-break games at home.

“Having the first two conference games (after the break) at home helps a lot,” Ray said. “In this conference, every home game is doubly important.”

Sharpe thinks UAM has a decided home-court advantage.

“I think it’s big,” he said of playing East Central and Southeastern Oklahoma State (Saturday’s opponent) at home. “It’s good, because those are long bus rides.

“I think we have a great home-court advantage.”

The Weevils (8-2, 2-1 in Great American Conference) will need it when they take on the much-improved Tigers (6-4, 3-1).

“They got a new coach (Ja Havens) this year,” Sharpe said. “He’s really turned the program for the good. …

“They beat Harding and Arkansas Tech, so those are two big road wins. It’s going to be a quite a challenge.”

East Central enters Thursday’s game on a four-game winning streak, including the wins over Harding and Ark. Tech.

UAM and East Central have two common opponents in Angelo State and GAC-foe Henderson State. The Weevils defeated both (90-81 and 66-65, respectively), while the Tigers dropped both games (72-62 and 75-67).

Both teams bring balanced scoring into the contest.

For East Central, Colby Carr (16.6), Brandon Lucas (13.7), A.J. Moutry (12.3) and Henry Pwono (10) average 10-plus points. Chris Lee (10.7) has only played in three games but is also averaging double-figures.

UAM counters with five players — Brandon Wilson (17.6), Jared Harrison (12.4), Brandon Sims (10.7), Dayton Mickens (9.9) and Sharif Hudson (9.5) — averaging at least 9.5 points a game. Wilson and Harrison have both earned GAC Player of the Week honors this season.

“It’s been good,” Sharpe said of the balanced scoring. “We haven’t had that the past few years.

“It’s nice not having one player you rely on, so you don’t have to saddle-up and ride him.”

On the women’s side, the young Blossoms (5-4, 1-2) will face a veteran Tigers (6-4, 1-3) team, which has four players scoring 9-plus points per game.

Junior Erin Walling (11.4) leads the way, followed by senior Alycea Price (10.2), senior Ashley Robison (10), junior Dilan Webster (9.7) and junior Ashleigh Kelman-Poto (9).

“They have a little more experience,” Ray said. “They have several girls who have been in the program for a few years.

“We’re still pretty young, we have a sophomore-heavy class.”

Right now, that sophomore class includes the Blossoms’ top-three scorers in Jordan Goforth (18.6), Tamia Grady (16) and Nikki Mullens (14).

“They know how to play well together,” Ray said. “Jordan led us in scoring last year. … I’m glad to see she carried it over. She’s a huge piece to our success.

“Nikki didn’t contribute a lot last season. … But she’s playing with a lot of confidence right now and that’s really helping her game.

“We were lucky to get Tamia after just one year at a junior college. She’s a guard who can go get points for us.”

Ray likes the fact that Division II has a set dead period, meaning all teams have the same amount of time off.

“We’re all in the same boat,” she said. “… It’s a quick turnaround for us (only getting to practice for three days).

“The good thing is East Central — even if they’re having four or five practices a day — is not going to have any more practice days.”