UAPB revels in first NCAA tournament bid
When Allen Smith was growing up, he used to go watch basketball
at his local college – but the less said about those Arkansas-Pine
Bluff teams, the better.
“I used to go to sleep at the games, actually. I was a little
kid,” Smith said. “They were getting blown out by 80 points and
all that. It was rough.”
Now, Smith is preparing to play for UAPB in the NCAA
The Golden Lions will take on Winthrop in the tournament’s first
game Tuesday night, with the winner advancing to play top-seeded
Duke. UAPB earned the program’s first NCAA bid by winning the
Southwestern Athletic Conference tournament, and the players were
decked out in championship hats and shirts Sunday while watching
the selection show in a cramped lounge near the school’s football
“I’ve always wanted to play Duke, but I wanted to play Duke at
Duke, just to see how the atmosphere was. I’ll take it how I can
get it,” said Smith, a 5-foot-10 junior. “It’s going to be great,
we’ve just got to get past this play-in game first. That’s the
first thing on the agenda – beat Winthrop.”
No matter what happens Tuesday, UAPB has traveled quite a road
to reach this point. As recently as 2003-04, the Golden Lions went
1-26. This season, they didn’t play a home game until mid-January
and started 0-11.
In the SWAC, however, the Golden Lions were contenders. They
earned the No. 2 seed in the conference tournament, beat
fifth-seeded Texas Southern in the title game and enter the NCAA
tournament with a 17-15 record.
“This is as big as it gets for our community, our alumni and
our students,” athletic director Skip Perkins said. “I’m still a
little numb right now. The turnaround is remarkable. It wasn’t even
over 10 years ago we were barely winning one or two games at
UAPB improved from those depths, losing in the SWAC tournament
title game in 2006 under coach Van Holt. George Ivory took over as
coach before the 2008-09 season.
For Perkins, this tournament bid is a bit of vindication after
the grueling schedule the school set up for the team. The Golden
Lions opened the season with 14 consecutive games away from home,
earning an estimated $800,000 for their trouble. At the time,
Perkins insisted the schedule wasn’t all about money, saying Ivory
wanted to test his team before conference play.
So UAPB played – and lost to – teams like Georgia Tech, Missouri
and Kansas State.
“It helped make us a better team. It made us more physical,”
guard Terrance Calvin said. “I think we were the most physical
team in our conference.”
There were some groans Sunday after Kansas State was matched up
with North Texas; the UAPB players apparently wanted a rematch.
Instead, the Golden Lions will have to win Tuesday night in Dayton,
Ohio, just to make it to the round of 64.
“I thought we were going to get an automatic bid into it
without a play-in game, but we’ve got to go through Winthrop to get
to Duke,” Calvin said. “We’ve just got to do what we’ve got to
Calvin was still wearing part of the net from Saturday night in
his hat, a sign the players and coaches were savoring every moment
of their big weekend.
“It’s been kind of hectic. You know, a lot of phone calls, text
messages, interviews,” Ivory said. “We love it.”