ABOUT THE COMMODORES: A senior-laden Vanderbilt team looks to get the conference season started with a bang against Arkansas. Familiar faces fill the starting lineup with point guard Dee Davis leading the way. She has a pair of favorite targets with post Carla Thomas and wing Caroline Williams. The Commodores are very accurate on offense — over 50% from the field, 40% from three and 75% at the line — and very stingy on defense — allowing only 64.2 ppg and just over 40% from the field. Thomas is third in the SEC this week in scoring at 17.7 ppg and closing on the all-time top 10 in scoring at Vandy while Davis is No. 1 in the SEC in assists.
WASHINGTON AWAY FOR FUNERAL: Senior guard Dominique Washington is expected to be with the team in Nashville. Washington traveled to Houston, Texas, for the funeral of her father which is scheduled for Thursday. She departed Fayetteville Tuesday after practice, and is scheduled to fly back to Nashville Thursday afternoon.
NEW STARTING LINEUP: As a result, Arkansas works this week to come up with a new starting five for the Vanderbilt game. By Wednesday’s practice, this would be Leslie Howard should Washington not be able to rejoin the team on Thursday.
CONFERENCE PLAY BEGINS: All bets are off with the start of the 2007 SEC schedule. Once again, the league is tough from top to bottom with 10 of the 12 members already at 10 wins for the season and an 11th with nine wins. Alabama and Tennessee get the first tipoff on Wednesday in a game moved up for the television window. The majority of the league gets underway on Thursday with Miss State and LSU taking first-day byes.
A FAMILIAR LOOK FOR VU: Almost everyone who did damage to Arkansas last season — notably Dee Davis, Carla Thomas, Caroline Williams and Liz Sherwood — are back for Vanderbilt.
WHO ARE YOU: Not the same for Vandy as they look across the court at a very different Arkansas team. Only one starter from both meetings last season returns for Arkansas — Brittney Vaughn — with two more that split the starts in last year’s games — Dominique Washington and Leslie Howard.
GUARD-VS-GUARD: Last season, Brittney Vaughn made her mark against Vanderbilt with her famous five point finish, but this year the junior must stand toe-to-toe with senior Dee Davis is a battle of the point guards. While Vaughn has put together a string of outstanding games with four double digit assist games in December, Davis leads the league in assists per game with over six and is third in assist-to-turnover ratio at 2.32:1. Vaughn is 10th at 1.32:1, but has proven in recent games to be the priceless floor leader.
HERE’S A NOTE YOU’VE NEVER SEEN BEFORE: On paper, Arkansas brings the post play advantage to Vanderbilt with the league’s leading rebounder, junior Lauren Ervin averaging a double-double of 12.3 ppg and 10.7 rpg. While traditionally post-strong Vandy might not have the single power player inside, Carla Thomas is a proven SEC post with 6.5 rpg and leads Vandy with 17.8 ppg. For probably the first time since joining the SEC, Arkansas enters the Vandy game with a significantly better rebound margin — +6.1 vs. + 3.7.
ACCURACY-VS-VOLUME: Vanderbilt has one of the best shooting games in the league, leading the SEC in field goal percentage at just over 50%, free throw percentage at just over 75% and second in three-pointers with 41%. Meanwhile, Arkansas is racking up the points thanks to volume, shooting on average of seven more shots per game than the opponents and forcing temp through a +5.4 turnover and +6.1 rebounding margin
SOUNDS THE SAME: Vanderbilt and Arkansas both needed second-half rallies to put away pesky Atlantic 10 members in their final pre-SEC games. Arkansas led St. Louis by 12 at half, winning by seven, while Vandy had LaSalle by 14 and hanging on against a 36-33 second half to win by 11.
GOT THAT IN COMMON: Both teams beat Clemson and Lipscomb. Vandy had wider margins than Arkansas, but had both teams at home while Arkansas played each on the road. Each team’s loss? To a top five ranked ACC team — Vandy to Duke, Arkansas to UNC.
MUCH MORE COLLEGIATE: Susie Gardner has posted a sign inside the Lady Razorback locker room: FIND A WAY. Arkansas certainly has lived up to the motto, winning games in almost every imaginable fashion during the pre-conference slate. This attitude will be particularly important as Arkansas faces its first league foe on the road. Arkansas has exactly one road win to start SEC play — that was last year at Miss State — to sport a 1-14 mark in the league road opener.
FIRST RANKED-VS.-RANKED SINCE 2003: Thursday’s game is the first time a ranked Arkansas team faced a ranked opponent under head coach Susie Gardner.
FIRST PERFECT DECEMBER SINCE 2000: Arkansas went 7-0 in December this year, and did the same back in December 2000 with a 6-0 mark. All-time, Arkansas has a total of five perfect Decembers in the 31-year history of the program.
BILLIKENS MAKE MARK: St. Louis is the first team this season to finish the game with a postitive assist-to-turnover ratio, 13 assists to 10 turnovers, and force a significant turnover margin, +6, against the Lady’Backs this season.
ROAD WARRIORS: Arkansas is perfect on the road to date with a 7-0 mark which ties the best road record under Susie Gardner (7-7 her first season). The last time Arkansas won eight on the road was the 1994-95 team that went 23-7 overall. The record? That’s 12 wins for the SWC championship team of 1989-90.
ANOTHER NEAR TRIPLE: For the second game in a row, a Lady’Back player came close to a triple double performance. This time it was Brittney Vaughn who posted 13 points and 10 assists at St. Louis for her second double-double of her career, but with nine boards almost had the triple. With Cincinnati, Lauren Ervin almost had the first-ever triple with blocks.
BANG THE BALL DOWN LOW: In the polar opposite of the Cincy game where Arkansas hit its first three treys but couldn’t get a layup to save its’ offense, at St. Louis Arkansas scored its first six field goals in the lane and finished the game with 32 points in the paint out of 66 — a season percentage of offense best to that point.
YOU CAN ALWAYS PLAY DEFENSE: Arkansas’ offense went south in a hurry to start the second half at St. Louis, hitting only two of the first 14 field goal attempts. Meanwhile, the Billikens caught fire to shoot over 50% and turn a 14-point halftime deficit into an eight-point lead with 8:49 to play. However, when Katie Pagenelli hit her three-pointer to make it 51-43 little did SLU know that the Billikens would manage only two more field goals the rest of the game — a Pagenelli layup as a part of a three-point play with 2:00 on the clock, andother layup with 20 seconds left — and a total of eight points.
GOING UPSIDE DOWN: Freshman Charity Ford led the Lady’Back defense into turtling another set of point guards as Cincinnati’s Treasure Humphries (4a/8to) and Angel Morgan (1a/4to) went negative assist-to-turnover against the Lady’Backs. Humphries’ eight turnovers is a new opponent high. Why turtled? Well, what happens when you flip the little amphibians on their back? They struggle and they can’t go anywhere.
PG, PG, WHA’CHA GONNA DO WHEN THEY COME FOR YOU: Since the start of December and Arkansas’ current winning streak, only one starting point guard, SFA’s Nikki Carr (3a/2to, only 25 min played), escaped with positive assist-to-turnover ratio against the defensive pressure led by freshman Charity Ford. Overall, only North Carolina’s Ivory Latta has a positive game with seven assists and five turnovers. In fact, none of Arkansas first 15 teams have managed to have a positive A:T and the opponent average is 0.5:1. Even the one team to create a positive A:T — St. Louis in game #16 — saw its starting PG, Theresa Lisch, flipped with a four assist, six turnover night.
THREE IS ALL ABOUT THE TREY: Whether its No. 3 or No. 23, the number three figures into Arkansas’ trey turnaround. After a rocky start in the first four games, Arkansas has a pair of three-point gunners with almost identical numbers on the year. Senior starter Dominique Washington (#3) and freshman sub Donica Cosby (#23) each have over 30 made treys through the first 16 games. Washington is more accurate, hitting 33-of-76 for .434, while Cosby is 32-of-79 for .405. They are backed up by three other players who have proved capable behind the arc. Last year’s team leader, Leslie Howard, started the season with a terrible slump, but has rallied to third on the team with 11 made off 54 for a .204 mark. Two more freshmen, Tanisha Smith (6-of-23) and Charity Ford (9-of-30) are next.
HOWDY PARTNER: Arkansas opens the SEC season with its rotating league partners for 2007 — Vanderbilt from the East and Miss State from the West. Last year, Arkansas opened on the road at MSU on Thursday then returned home for Vanderbilt.
VERSUS VANDERBILT: The Commodores lead the series 13-5, but Arkansas snapped a five-game streak in the first meeting of the two teams last season. The return game in Nashville saw Vandy pull out the win. At Memorial Gym, Arkansas has been very unlucky, losing all but one of the nine games.
LAST TIME WITH VANDY: The return game at Vandy left Arkansas with a foul taste, shooting only seven free throws at Memorial Gym and making only one. Arkansas’ three-point shooting rocked VU for a second time, sinking eight, and Arkansas closed to within a bucket late in the game but could not catch a break. Melissa Hobbs’ jumper at 5:37 pulled UA to within two, 55-53, but the momentum faded and Arkansas could not produce another point until 58 seconds left on a Kristin Moore jumper. While no one reached double figures, Arkansas managed to have five players within a bucket of 10.
THE FIRST MEETING WITH VANDY: Brittney Vaughn scored only five points against Vandy, but they proved the most important as Arkansas held off the Commodore rally to win in OT. Leading by five at half, Vandy took a late lead that Vaughn erased with a reverse layup in the final seconds then a halfcourt buzzer-beater to send the game to overtime. Arkansas trailed in the OT, but clutch shots sealed the win. Defense dominated as Arkansas held Vandy to 37% from the field for the game — 32% while building the lead and giving up only 19 first-half points then 16% in OT.
NEVER-NEVERS: So far this year, Arkansas is undefeated when it holds the opponent under 60 (10-0), leads at halftime (13-0) and holding the opponent under 40% from the field (10-0).
THE BEST THINGS ON THE COURT ARE FREE: Arkansas has made a dramatic turnaround at the line to start this season. The Lady’Backs continue to force the game offensively on opponents, and have made almost as many free throws — 246 — than opponents have shot — 258. Arkansas is shooting just over 70% at the line for the year. Every Lady’Back has been to the line and hit throws.
FAST PACE TO EARLY SCHEDULE: The Lady’Backs play three games in five days starting with Lipscomb, a good simulation for the three-straight they will face at the Rainbow Wahine next week in Hawai’i. At the end of the Wahine, Arkansas had a fourth of its schedule finished with eight games in the first 17 days of the season. As a result, Arkansas has more game days — 8 — than practice days — 7 — in the early schedule. By the last game before the final exam break — Texas Southern — Arkansas played 10 games in 25 days.
SEVEN ROAD TRIPS, FIVE PRESS ROWS: Brittney Vaughn has a habit of crashing into the press tables on the road. The junior guard scored her latest collision at St. Louis, taking out the stat printer and a chunk of the scorer’s table. However, from where she started the season at Clemson, her skill at managing the tables is improving. At Hawai’i, she deftly leapt on top of the scorer’s table at the Stan Sheriff Center after intercepting a Wahine pass and successfully passing her steal upcourt to a teammate for a breakaway layup. At Austin Peay, Vaughn barreled through without effect. She tumbled over the table for a slight concussion hitting the bleacher steps on the other side at Clemson.
DEFINITELY A WARRIOR: Lauren Ervin proved her mettle at the Rainbow Wahine Classic by batting the pain of a compound dislocation of her left pinkie finger. One day after the practice accident, she lead all rebounders with nine against Denver and scoring 12 points for Arkansas in only 20 minutes played. The next day, Ervin pulled down another 11 rebounds with six points in 30 minutes versus Hawai’i. Against UNC, she 15 points on 7-of-11 from the field and eight rebounds. Proving that playing with a tape and brace job that resembled half a catcher’s mitt wasn’t a problem, the 6-3 junior post had four assists and four steals in the three games of the tournament. The injury was on her non-shooting hand, and that was evident with 56% from the field for the tournament.