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20th-ranked Arkansas hosts Miss State in SEC home opener

BY ANDRES FOCIL
20th-ranked Arkansas hosts Miss State in SEC home opener

ABOUT THE LADY BULLDOGS: With only one senior on the roster and several newcomers in the starting lineup, Miss State may be more pups than Dogs. The Lady Bulldogs roll into Fayetteville after a SEC season-opening bye on a five-game winning streak. Only one player averages over 10 points per game, junior college transfer Imesia Jackson (11.9 ppg), but several are contributing to the bottom line.

TWO WORDS — TAKE COVER: To say that Miss State’s player shoot the three is one of the great understatements of the year. Of the top 10 players on the roster — the ones that are the regular rotation and have averaged more than 10 minutes a game — nine have made at least one three-pointer. Regardless of position, State will pull the trigger from behind the arc. Only low post player Imesia Jackson has not shot a three, and her fellow post player Bethany Washington is only 1-of-6. The other eight Bulldogs have double-digit attempts with super sub Alexis Rack leading the team with 17-of-63.

PERHAPS THE YOUNGEST TEAM IN THE SEC: Heading into the weekend, State looks to start a lineup that sports three newcomers and two players with a combined three years at MSU. If able, Tysheka Grimes’ return to the starting five used for 12 games by MSU this year would reduce that experience to one player with one letter.

FRESHMAN FACEOFF: Both teams feature fab freshman coming off the bench as top scorers. Countering Arkansas’ Donica Cosby who leads the SEC freshmen this week in scoring is Alexis Rack who averages 7.4 ppg and is MSU top three-point shooter (17-of-63, 27%). The Bulldogs will start at least one freshman with Bethany Washington who leads the SEC freshmen in rebounding. If she’s able, freshman Tyesha Grimes will start for MSU in the lane.

JUCO FACEOFF: Both teams feature a leading scorer from junior college. Matching up with Arkansas’ Lauren Ervin is MSU top scorer Imesia Jackson (11.9 ppg), a 6-1 product of Southwest Tennessee.

WASHINGTON AWAY FOR FUNERAL: Senior guard Dominique Washington traveled to Houston, Texas, for the funeral of her father which is scheduled for Thursday. She departed Fayetteville Wednesday after practice, and rejoined the team in Nashville Thursday afternoon. She did not start, but played a handful of minutes.

OPPOSITE OF VANDERBILT: Where the Commodores returned a considerable number of players and starters from last year’s games, Miss State returns only one player who started both meetings — Marneshia Richard. Several of this year’s starters did play against the Lady’Backs last season — Robin Porter and Miayorka Johnson notable as now starters.

STATE ARRIVES RESTED: The Lady Bulldogs had the opening day of SEC off. For Arkansas, it resembles the start of the season as the Lady’Backs played three season openers — their own plus two other teams.

BULLDOGS UP AND DOWN: Rolling out to a 4-1 start that included an OT win over Florida State, State dropped four straight including a 5-8 Louisiana Tech before turning around at Christmas. MSU brings a five-game winning streak to Fayetteville, including the Georgia Tech Holiday Tournament title over the host Yellowjackets.

STATE STREAKS TO FAYETTEVILLE: Along with the five-game winning streak, Miss State also has a three-game road winning streak.

DOUBLE-DOUBLES FACE OFF: Miss State sophomore Robin Porter picked up her fifth career double in her last game. The versatile swing forward won’t exactly match up with either of Arkansas’ doublers — point guard Brittney Vaughn (two point-assist doubles this year) or post Lauren Ervin (six traditional point-rebound doubles).

INJURIES DOG STATE: Freshman Tysheka Grimes started the first 12 games this season, but has missed the last two after an ankle injury against Tennessee State at the Georgia Tech tournament. Averaging 6.6 ppg and 5.2 rpg, Grimes is tied for second on the team in blocks. With Grimes out, Miayorka Johnson stepped into the starting lineup the past two games.

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.

THAT’S GONNA LEAVE A MARK: And indeed the loss to Vanderbilt did just that to Arkansas’ stats, dropping a full point off the scoring average and three off the scoring margin.

ANOTHER BUZZER BEATER FOR COSBY: Donica Cosby broke Arkansas’ silence from the trey with a first-half ending three-pointer at the top of the key against Vanderbilt. It jump started the freshman to a 15 point night, the one bright spot in the Arkansas offense.

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 three point guards — like North Carolina’s Ivory Latta and Vandy’s Dee Davis, for example — have positive games. 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 MISS STATE: Arkansas leads the series with the Lady Bulldogs, 13-9, and carries a four-game winning streak into Sunday’s game. At home, Arkansas is 8-1 with the only win for MSU coming in the 2003 season with Kodak All-American LaToya Thomas.

LAST TIME IN FAYETTEVILLE: Arkansas hit an abysmal 28.6% to trail for the first time at home at half, 28-26. Rochelle Vaughn shook off a poor first half to hit a career-high six three-pointers for the game and a career-best 22 points against a SEC foe. The difference maker in the second half proved to be transfer Leslie Howard, who did not play at Starkville but blistered the Lady Bulldogs for 6-of-9 from the field and 19 points in only 21 minutes played.

FIRST GAME WITH MSU: It proved to be a game for the ages as Arkansas won its first-ever SEC road opener. Arkansas pounded State with a 20-9 advantage in points off turnovers and 19-4 on second-chance points as the Lady’Backs led by as many as 25 before coasting home for a 21-point win. Kristin Moore ruled the lane with a double-double, but Arkansas had a total effort from the offense with every player but one scoring. Dominique Washington came off the bench for 14 points in 21 minutes.



Sports Category : Basketball (W)