Students are taking a break from classes, but the Sam Houston State University Bearkats are certainly not taking any time off from the court.
With Saturday’s 72-54 road win over the University of Central Arkansas, women’s basketball remained undefeated and improved to 6-0 against Southland Conference opponents.
Since starting conference play on Dec. 18, SHSU has defeated Northwestern State, New Orleans, McNeese, Nicholls, Southeastern Louisiana and Central Arkansas. The Kats have won each game by double digits and are averaging a 17.7 point differential in SLC contests. They also had a dominating 102-52 non-conference victory over Wiley College on Dec. 30 to close out 2019.
A major storyline has been the team-wide contribution. In the most recent matchup with UCA, SHSU had four players finish with double-digit points: sophomore guard Amber Leggett (13), redshirt junior guard Faith Cook (13) and senior guards Jenniffer Oramas (12) and Jaylonn Walker (11). Oramas, Leggett and Walker have each put up double-digit points in five of their six conference games, and Walker has scored 102 points against SLC teams while Leggett has 100 of her own.
Women’s basketball is potentially on pace for its best conference season in school history, and head coach Ravon Justice deserves a lot of credit. SHSU has never had a women’s basketball coach with a winning conference record in their career, but Justice (now in her second year at the helm) has jumped out to a 17-7 start. The Bearkats are 27-17 overall under Justice and are paving the way to another SLC Tournament appearance.
Men’s basketball had a strong start in conference, as well, but has hit a skid lately and dropped Saturday’s game at UCA. After overcoming a 15-point deficit to defeat SLU on Jan. 8, the Kats trailed the Bears by nine at halftime on Saturday and came up short, falling to 4-2 in conference play after the 89-82 loss. SHSU still ranks near the top of the SLC standings, battling with Nicholls (5-1) and Stephen F. Austin (4-1).
The men played a tough non-conference schedule to prepare for SLC opponents this year and racked up some big wins including a 71-68 victory over Louisiana Tech and finished up 2019 with an impressive 75-61 road win at Rice on Dec. 29. Conference play started Dec. 18 with a 92-79 win at Johnson Coliseum over NSU. The Kats had five players in double digits in that game, including senior forward/center Kai Mitchell who has had at least 10 points in five of his six conference games.
Junior Demarkus Lampley has been a bright spot, too. The 6-foot, 2-inch guard has tallied 78 points in SHSU’s six conference matchups despite starting only once.
Sophomore guard Zach Nutall will be looking for a turnaround in the coming weeks after his red hot start to the season. He picked up 59 points in the first three conference games of the year (a stretch where SHSU went 3-0), but has cooled off lately after missing the game against Nicholls and then scoring just eight points against SLU and seven points against UCA. The Bearkats are just 1-2 in their last three contests and have been outscored 221-207.
Both teams will continue conference play Jan. 15 against Lamar. The women tip-off at 6:30 p.m. in front of the home crowd at Johnson Coliseum, and the men are on the road at 7:00 p.m.