Scuffling along with a 4-6 record in late December after road losses to Tulsa, California-Riverside, Houston, Loyola-Chicago and Boise State, few fans expected head coach Joe Golding’s team to do much more than struggle in its continued transition to NCAA Division I competition.
But the Wildcats beat South Carolina State on Dec. 22 and Arkansas-Pine Bluff on Dec. 23 to win the Upper Division championship of the Continental Las Vegas Classic at the Orleans Arena in Las Vegas, Nev. The tournament title gave ACU a rare piece of hardware to take home – a trophy – as the Wildcats won’t be eligible for postseason championships until the 2017-18 season because of their move to Division I.
After a close loss (83-81) to Grand Canyon University in Phoenix, Ariz., on Dec. 28, the Wildcats have reeled off three consecutive wins to open Southland Conference play and move to 9-7 on the season. They handily beat Central Arkansas, Nicholls State and Northwest Louisiana – the latter an experienced team with a head coach looking for his 600th career win in Natchitoches. But ACU spoiled the Demons’ party, big-time, shocking a team projected to finish second in the Southland.
“In all my years, I don’t know that I’ve seen a better shooting night against my team,” said Mike McConathy, who has coached college basketball for 32 years, the last 16 for Northwest Louisiana. “They moved the ball beautifully, they played smart and they played hard. But they hit some tough, tough shots too, and those are the ones that jump out, looking back.”
In the win, hot-shooting guards Harrison Hawkins (31 points), Parker Wentz (29) and LaDarrien Williams (20) scored 80 of ACU’s 95 points and contributed mightily to the team’s 16 of 27 three-point field goal shooting (.593 percent).
Next up for the Wildcats is Stephen F. Austin State University in the first-ever game to be nationally broadcast from Moody Coliseum. Tipoff is at 11 a.m. tomorrow (Saturday). Tickets are $10 for adults and $5 for students (those younger than age 5 get in free). Half-price tickets are available with a military ID. ACU students, faculty and staff receive free admission.
Both teams are undefeated at 3-0 and tied for first place in the Southland, so you couldn’t ask for a better scenario for CBS Sports Network to choose as its game to broadcast to the nation. Grant Boone (’91) will handle the play-by-play and Van Chancellor – who coached the 2004 U.S. women’s Olympic team to a gold medal and won four WNBA titles with the Houston Comets – will provide color commentary on the telecast.
The ACU women’s team (8-6 overall, 1-3 in the Southland) plays SFA (10-5, 3-1) at 2 p.m. in Moody, although that game is not televised.
The Lumberjack men are a formidable opponent: 13-3 overall this season with wins in 25 straight Southland games. SFA was 32-3 last year in the regular season and 18-0 in the Southland, advancing to play in the NCAA National Tournament for the second time. They beat Virginia Commonwealth in the first round before falling to UCLA.
Those watching on TV or in person for the first time will see a game played on Dee Nutt Court, which was dedicated Nov. 22 before the Duquesne game in honor of the 1950 ACU graduate and late great former ACU head coach.
The Abilene Convention and Visitors Bureau is welcoming CBS Sports to Abilene with a sign contest: fans can create a sign and post it to the ACVB Instagram account (@VisitAbilene) or Twitter account (@AbileneCVB). The winner will be announced at noon Saturday.