Head Coach Sandra Rushing
Though she has seen the game from many vantage points throughout her 28-year head coaching career – enjoying stays in Arkansas, Mississippi and Texas, and in each division of NCAA basketball – there is one place Sandra Rushing has consistently resided.
Since becoming a collegiate head coach at the age of 24, Rushing has spent much of the last two decades overseeing highly successful programs, logging more than 500 wins during that time. And despite a wildly successful career that has included two Final Fours and six straight Sweet 16s at Division II powerhouse Delta State (where she compiled a 254-58 (.814) record in her 10 seasons), in 2015-16 she found a way to climb even higher.
In 2016 and 2017 she guided her Central Arkansas teams to back-to-back NCAA Tournaments – the first two appearances in the Division I championship for the program – the culmination of a historic run that rewrote the Central Arkansas record book.
Under Rushing's watch, the Sugar Bears earned their first D-I NCAA Tournament berth in 2016 after winning a program-record 28 games while breaking the program record for regular-season wins with 26 and Southland Conference wins with 16 and winning the Southland Conference tournament for the first time in program history. Her Sugar Bears followed that up with a 2017 in which they were Southland Conference regular season co-champions and repeated as Southland tournament champions to make a repeat appearance in the NCAA tournament after 26 wins overall and 16 in conference play en route to 2016-17 Southland Conference Coach of the Year Honors.
Over those two years, the Sugar Bears went 54-9 (.857) overall, 50-7 in regular season (.877), 36-4 (.900) vs conference opponents, 26-3 (.897) at home, 28-6 (.824) in road & neutral games overall and an astounding 21-1 (.955) in road/neutral games against conference foes. The 54 wins was the highest two-season total for a Southland program since Stephen F. Austin had 56 in 1991 and 1992.
Rushing's Sugar Bears received 14 seeds in the tournament in both years, the highest seed for a Southland team since 2007 and becoming only the 3rd Southland program ever to earn a 14 seed or better in consecutive years.
As they entered the 2017 NCAA Tournament, Rushing's Sugar Bears ranked 4th nationally in scoring defense – allowing just 52.2 points per game; and were 11th in field goal percentage defense at 34.7 percent. They were just as efficient on the offensive end, ranking 6th nationally in field goal percentage at 47.4 percent; were 26th in rebound margin (+6.7) and 32nd in assist-to-turnover ratio. Before losing to 3rd-seeded Texas, the Sugar Bears had won 17 straight games – the fourth-longest streak in the country.
For the second straight season, the Sugar Bears were among the national Top 100 in RPI – ranking 82nd as of 3/12/17, ahead of 35 teams from the ACC, Big 10, Big XII, Pac 12, SEC, AAC and Big East. They also reached the 2nd-highest ranking in the CollegeInsider Mid-Major Top 25 in program history, climbing as high as No. 16 after winning the Southland tournament for the 2nd straight season, winning 60-35 while holding Stephen F. Austin to the lowest point total in Southland tournament championship game history.
In 2015-16, the Sugar Bears went undefeated on the road in conference play for the first time in program history and put together an impressive 15-1 record away from home, winning 15 straight road and neutral games after an early-season loss at No. 4 Tennessee – the nation's 4th-longest streak in 2015-16 behind only UConn, South Carolina and Colorado State. With the 28 wins they had the 4th-highest win total in league history.
The Sugar Bears spent a large portion of the season ranked in the Mid-Major Top 25, peaking at No. 18, and finished the season with the 2nd highest RPI among Arkansas Division I teams, finishing ahead of Arkansas, Little Rock, and UA-Pine Bluff and among the national top 100.
The Sugar Bears were one of the nation's top defensive teams, leading the country in scoring defense for much of the season, before entering the NCAA Tournament ranked 9th nationally and finishing with a school record 51.8 ppg allowed, the 3rd-best mark in Southland Conference history.
In her first three seasons at Central Arkansas, she guided the Sugar Bears to three straight Southland Conference tournament appearances, was named the Southland Conference Coach of the Year by CollegeSportsMadness in 2014 and coached two Southland Conference Players of the Year and a Southland Freshman of the Year. In all, Rushing has coached 13 All-Southland Conference selections, 4 Southland All-Defensive Team players and 4 Southland All-Academic selections.
With added emphasis on defense and fundamentals, Rushing's teams have ranked among the national leaders in scoring defense, fouls committed per game and free throw percentage. In 2016, they wrapped up the regular season ranked 9th nationally in scoring defense at 51.8 points per game and among the Top 50 in field goal percentage defense at 36.9 percent. In 2015 they were 16th nationally in fouls per game, committing just 14.5 per game. They allowed 57.3 points per game – 32nd in the nation and just 1.5 ppg from falling in the Top 20 – and allowed opponents to shoot just 39 percent from the field. The team's 72.3 free throw percentage was 2nd in the Southland Conference and 66th nationally. The 2013-14 team allowed 57.1 points per game, which ranked 17th nationally.
At Delta from 2002-12, Rushing was the league's Coach of the Year a record-setting six times and was named Coach of the Decade in 2010 while taking the Lady Statesmen to eight NCAA Tournaments and six Gulf South Conference titles. Her teams reached the Final Four in consecutive years in 2008 & '09 and made six consecutive Sweet 16 appearances between 2006-11. In 2011 she was named the WBCA Region 5 Coach of the Year.
Over her last seven seasons in Cleveland, Miss., Rushing's teams averaged more than 28 wins per season and had three teams reach the 30-win mark – including a 33-1 season in '07-'08 with the lone loss coming in the national semifinal. During that stretch, the Lady Statesmen were an incredible 198-30 (.868) and put together a 64-game winning streak on their home floor from '07-'11.
"Coach Rushing is a tireless recruiter and is committed to molding young women to success on and off the court," said Dr. Brad Teague, UCA Director of Athletics. "We are excited to have someone with over 20 years of extreme success in coaching and one whom I know and have worked with. She has over 10 years' experience at a Division I program and 10 years at the top Division II program in the country. She is a winner and doesn't accept anything but success. Coach Rushing will commit all of her time and effort into the success of Sugar Bear basketball and we are excited and fortunate to have her talents at UCA."
Prior to her time at Delta State, a storied program with six national championships to its credit, Rushing spent one season at Division II Henderson State in Arkadelphia, Ark. In her one season at Henderson, she brought a halt to the Lady Reddies' six-year run of sub-.500 seasons and laid the foundation for a program that would go on to see 97 wins and four straight 20-win seasons in the years immediately following.
In addition to her tremendous Division II success, Rushing brings many years of Division I experience to UCA as well, having spent 11 seasons in the Western Athletic Conference as the head coach at University of Texas-El Paso from 1990-2001. During her time in El Paso, Rushing accumulated what was then a program-record 123 wins, broke the school record for wins in a season, and was inducted into the El Paso Commission for Women Hall of Fame in 1999.
She began her head coaching career with one season at Millsaps College in Jackson, Miss. in 1989-90 after two years as a graduate assistant at Delta State the two years prior.
Rushing played collegiately at Alabama, where she was a four-time Academic All-SEC selection and holds the Crimson Tide's career free throw percentage record. She earned her Bachelor's of Science in Physical Education from Alabama in 1986 before getting her Master's of Science in Health, Physical Education and Recreation from Delta State two years later.