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#23 Lady’Backs close the year at St. Louis Saturday afternoon at 4 p.m.

BY ANDRES FOCIL
#23 Lady’Backs close the year at St. Louis Saturday afternoon at 4 p.m.

ABOUT THE BILLIKENS: Another road game with another team highly regarded in its conference preseason. St. Louis brings an 8-5 mark with three players leading the team in scoring with double digits. Thersa Lisch leads the way (16.2 ppg, 4.7 rpg) followed closely by Tyler McIlwraith (15.8 ppg, 6.5 rpg). Saturday’s game is the first back from break for the Billikens. Like Cincinnati, SLU has a tight rotation with only seven players getting the majority of the minutes played.

SHIMMY HAS ST. LOUIS SHAKIN: Second-year head coach Shimmy Gray-Miller has turned the Billikens around after a rough 7-20 season last year and is off to the 8-5 start. Even though 10 letterwinners and four starters return, this season’s performance bears little resemblance to the squad that stumbled to a 13th place finish in the Atlantic 10 last season.

HISTORY MADE: The 2006-07 team breaks the record for the best start in the 31-year history of the program with its win over Cincinnati to move to 14-1, besting the 1995-96 team at 13-1.

SLU HAS SOME HISTORY, TOO: The Billikens’ win before Christmas over Utah State was the eighth of the year — already putting St. Louis ahead of last year’s 7-20 mark. It’s also the most wins for SLU since the 2002-03 team won 17 games. At home this year, the Billikens are 5-1.

DIDN’T WE JUST PLAY CINCY: St. Louis has more players from Cincinnati — three — than Arkansas’ last opponent, Univ. of Cincinnati — one.

FINAL NON-CONFERENCE GAMES: Both teams close 2006 with Saturday’s game and begin league play next week on the road. For St. Louis, it is at Charlotte on Jan. 9. Lady’Backs are at Vanderbilt on Thursday, Jan. 4.

VAUGHN PUTS INTO PERSPECTIVE: The big start was nice, but next week Southeastern Conference games begin and the record won’t mean anything. However, junior guard Brittney Vaughn summed it up in the post-Cincinnati game press conference: "It’s good to know you’re a part of history at a place you’ll come back to. We’ll always be Lady’Backs, so whenever we come back we’ll be able to say we were a part of history."

STREAKING INTO ST. LOUIS: The current seven-game winning streak is the longest since a seven-game run by the Lady’Backs as a part of a 10-1 start for Susie Gardner two years ago. Arkansas is also off to an undefeated start at home with 6-0.

LET’S GET IT ON: St. Louis is leading the Atlantic 10 with 75.1 ppg. Arkansas comes off one of its finest offensive efforts of the year with 94 against Cincinnati and averages 76.6 ppg.

BANK IT OFF THE ARCH, NOTHING BUT NET: St. Louis also leads the A-10 in three-pointers per game with 6.15. Arkansas put together back-to-back trey manifique games and is averaging 5.9 bonus-buckets per game.

ROAD WARRIORS: Arkansas is perfect on the road to date with a 6-0 mark. That’s one shy of be 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.

RPI TIME: With the Lady’Backs moving up in the polls — 23 in AP, 24 for coaches — it’s time to check in with the on-line RPI indexes. In both RealTimeRPI and the Jeff Sagarin Ratings, Arkansas is on the rise. Arkansas is 34 in the RealTimeRPI with a power ranking of 23. According to Sagarin, Arkansas has a ranking of 22. Don’t get too happy there — Tennessee is #3, LSU #6, Vandy #11 and Georgia #14. Arkansas is the fifth SEC team in Sagarin’s ranking as of Dec. 28 games, followed by Auburn (#35), Ole Miss (#41), Kentucky (#67), South Carolina (#74), Bama (#115), Florida (#129) and Miss State (#203). Just for comparison — St. Louis is #137.

JUST WHEN YOU THOUGHT THEY WERE HOT: Arkansas’ three-point gunners prove they were smokin’ (just ask junior post Lauren Ervin — who proclaimed it in the post-game). The Lady’Backs hit their first six straight three-pointers to turn a close first half into a runaway against Cincinnati. The Lady’Backs finshed the first half with a best effort for 10 attempts in a half this season of 7-of-10. In the second half, UC tightened up on the perimeter (thus opening up the inside for a 17p/16r double for Ervin) and held Arkansas to only two second half treys on three attempts.

SO MUCH FOR THAT A-T: Arkansas’ defense shredded Cincinnati’s ball control, turning a team that had a 1.1:1 assist-to-turnover ratio into a 0.5:1 squad. The Bearcats gave up 23 turnovers, including a five-second inbound violation, and picked up only 12 assists for the 30 made field goals.

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.

UC SIGNIFICANCE: Arkansas never trailed against UC, handed UC its worst loss on the year to date at 12-points, had UC down by the most points of any opponent and became only the second team to outrebound the board-aggressive Bearcats.

IMAGINE IF HER NUMBER WAS 55: For the second straight game, freshman Donica Cosby came off the bench to shoot her number — 23 — but with Cincinnati it came with a twist. The 23-point effort was Cosby’s first big night at Walton Arena and was a near-point-a-minute effort. Her 23 points came in only 24 minutes and the Microwave was hot from behind the arc. Cosby sank three of Arkansas’ first six three-pointers, then hit the buzzer-beating exclamation point to finish the game.

AND LO A FRESHMAN SHALL LEAD THEM: Donica Cosby moved into the team lead with her 23 points against Cincinnati. While it hasn’t been that long since a freshmen led the team in scoring — Whitney Jones did it for the first games of last season — it has been a considerable amount of time since a rookie led the team for the season. In fact, it has only happened three times since the inaugural seasons of Lady’Back basketball. The most recent was Kimberly Wilson in 1993-94.

ERVIN BREAKS OWN RECORD: Lauren Ervin tied her Bud Walton Arena record of seven blocked shots by rejecting Cincinnati’s Treasure Humphries late in the game. When Humphries collected the rejection and tried again, Ervin emphatically sent the second attempt into the stands for her eighth and new arena record. Ervin’s 8 put her within one of the all-time mark of nine by Robyn Irwin.

ERVIN TWO SHY OF THE TRIPLE: No player in Lady Razorback history has achieved a triple-double with blocks. The school record for blocks is nine. Lauren Ervin picked up her fifth double-double as a Lady’Back with near career bests of 17 points (one off her 18) and 16 rebounds (one off her 17) to go with a new career high eight blocks.

TEAM TWO POINTS SHY OF RECORD: The most players in double-digits in a single game is seven — against TCU from way-back in the SWC days of the late 1980s. Arkansas finished with five in double digits against Cincinnati led by 23 from Donica Cosby. Arkansas had two more players with nine points — Charity Ford and Danielle Allen.

NOT EXACTLY THE 54 WE LIKE: After holding back-to-back opponents to 54 points, Arkansas gave up 54 points in the second half alone to Cincinnati. The 82 points by UC was the most by any team against Arkansas at home this year, and second only to #2 ranked UNC’s 94. Fortunately for Arkansas, the Lady’Backs had 94 of their own to counter UC.

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 31 made treys through the first 15 games. Washington is more accurate, hitting 31-of-70 for .443, while Cosby is 31-of-76 for .408. 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 51 for a .216 mark. Two more freshmen, Tanisha Smith (6-of-21) and Charity Ford (9-of-29) are next.

COULD IT BE THE RETURN OF THE HEADBAND?: Wendi Willits made headbands the rage for three-point shooting little girls in the late 1990s. Is it a coincidence that Arkansas’ current three-point stars wouldn’t be seen without their white headbands? In fact, Willits attempted only one game without her lucky headband — she left it at home — and the result was she didn’t play at Miss State, suffering a horrible stomach flu.

TV TIME FOR ARKANSAS: The SFA game is the first of two games produced by Cox Sports for the Lady Razorbacks. It will air same day delayed in the Cox Sports Arkansas market at 9:30 p.m. Wednesday night, and will replay again on Thursday. The other game is at Auburn, and will be live. Lady Razorback TV and Hog Tails host Blair Cartwright will provide the play-by-play and former four-time all-SEC guard Kimberly Wilson Jenkins will handle color commentary. This is also the first of back-to-back TV games for Arkansas as the Lady’Backs’ next contest, versus Cincinnati at Walton Arena, will be a tape-delay production on local Fox affiliate KFTA.

VERSUS ST. LOUIS: Arkansas won the only other meeting between the two teams, way back in 1996-97 — a 69-43 decision in Fayetteville.

NEVER-NEVERS: So far this year, Arkansas is undefeated when it holds the opponent under 60 (9-0), leads at halftime (12-0) and holding the opponent under 40% from the field (10-0).



Sports Category : Basketball (W)