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Seminole Indian:

CONWAY, Ark. _ The University of Central Arkansas Bears continued their climb up the Southland Conference standings Wednesday night with a 76-71 victory over the New Orleans Privateers at the Farris Center.

UCA (10-10, 5-2) won its fourth consecutive conference game _ and fifth in the past six _ and moved into a tie for second place with Abilene Christian, which hosts the Bears on Saturday afternoon. Sophomore center Hayden Koval tied his career high with 22 points and added 5 rebounds and 7 blocked shots to lead four Bears in double figures. Senior Thatch Unruh added 15 points while UCA's defense held UNO to just 36.5 percent shooting overall.

The Privateers (9-9, 4-3), who entered the game tied for third with the Bears, got nine three-pointers and 28 points from junior guard Bryson Robinson (9 of 15) and pulled down 19 offensive rebounds. But the Bears, who last lost on Jan. 9 to league-leader Sam Houston State, never trailed in the game. UCA finished the game with four players wiht four fouls but connected on 19 of 26 at the free-throw line, making 11 more free throws than the Privateers.

"I thought our defense was outstanding,' said Pennell. "Our rebounding could have been a little better. And if that was the case, we would have won this game by double digits. But the fact we held them to 35 percent shooting in the second half... I thought we made plays when we needed to.

"And this team, what I'm about as proud of as anything, and I told them in the locker room, is their poise. We've handled leads well, we really have. And for a young team that's unusual. It may bite us one of these days, but right now we're pretty calm. I thought our ability to close out was what I like to see. Very happy with the win and just march on in the league and see where this goes.'

The Bears jumped out to an 11-2 lead to start the game but Robinson's first of many three-pointers closed the margin to 20-16 at the midway point of the first half. Unruh hit consecutive threes and Koval added his second, good for a 28-18 lead. Unruh then closed out the half scoring UCA's final four points after UNO tied the game, giving the Bears a 38-34 halftime cushion.

The Bears improved to 10-0 when leading at halftime this season.

"I think what is says as much as anything is that we're engaged in the game,' said Pennell. "I feel like the times we've not played well this year we just haven't been totally engaged early on. Then you get behind and you try to get back in it. And most of the time in college basketball, the team that gets a lead wins. If you can just hold onto that lead. I told them Stephen F. Austin was up 15-2 on this team, and this team is not going away. They won't quit, they love their coach, they play for him and they play hard.

"And this was just another hard-fought conference game. I know sometimes we look, you were up 10, you should have put them away. But that's not the way conferences work. So just the fact that you get a win against a quality opponent, that's a big deal.'

An Eddy Kayouloud three-pointer gave the Bears their biggest lead of the game at 64-51 with 9:28 left to play but the Privateers fought back and pulled within three points in the final 40 seconds as Robinson made his final three three-pointers. But Koval made a pair of free throws with 5.8 seconds left and Unruh added two more with 1.2 remaining to seal it. Sophomore guard DeAndre Jones finished with 13 points and 4 rebounds, while Kayouloud had 10 points, 6 rebounds and 3 assists, hitting 2 of 5 from three-point range.

Koval, just a sophomore, bumped his career blocked shot total to 144, just four short of tying the UCA career record of 148.

"When you have a guy at the rim (Koval) that can block shots like that, it really changes the complexity of the other team's offense,' said Pennell. "And even though he didn't play a lot, SK (Shittu) came in and blocked two shots. So your center spot has nine takeaways at the rim and that's just huge.  And (Eddy's) really a tough matchup for people because of his skill level. He can make the three, he can post and put the ball on the deck. Another good game by him.'

The Bears will be playing for another spot in the SLC standings at 3:30 Saturday when they take on the ACU Wildcats, who lost 61-60 to Stephen F. Austin on Wednesday night.

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