FAYETTEVILLE, Ark. - The University of Arkansas women’s basketball team travels to the Southeastern Conference Championship this week, where they will face Florida in the first round at 11 a.m. (CST) on Thursday. The Razorbacks earned the eighth seed, and will face the ninth-seeded Gators in the first game at The Arena at Gwinnett Center in Duluth, Ga. The winner of the first-round game moves on to face top-seeded Tennessee, who the Razorbacks have never faced in the SEC Tournament, in the same timeslot on Friday.
“We feel good to be coming in to the SEC Tournament off a win at home on senior day,” Arkansas head coach Tom Collen
said. “We shot the ball as well as we have all year, so hopefully we can carry that over. We know that we have a tough matchup against Florida. It’s easy to prepare for because we just played each other. I hope there is a revenge factor for us. We just have to make shots and defend well.”
The Razorbacks finished the regular season with an 18-11 record, and were 6-10 in SEC play. Arkansas finished the season with a 93-52 home win over Ole Miss, led by 22 points by senior Sarah Watkins
. Watkins was named as the SEC’s Co-Sixth Woman of the Year after leading the Razorbacks with 12.9 points per game. Watkins scored over twenty points in five games, and had 19 games scoring in double figures. Watkins made 78.3 percent of her shots from the free throw line, good for fifth in the conference, and went over the 1,000-point and 500 rebound plateaus during the season. Arkansas was also fueled by sophomore point guard Calli Berna
, who led the SEC with 178 assists, 20 more than the next highest player. She also had just 71 turnovers, giving her a 2.5 assist/turnover ratio that was second in the SEC and eighth in the NCAA. She played an average of 39.1 minutes per game in conference play, the most in the conference.
The Razorbacks have been buoyed by strong defense throughout the season. They allow just opponents to shoot just 35.9 percent from the field, the second best total in the SEC. In addition, they allow just 57.1 points per game, the fourth best mark in the conference. To go with there stout defensive play, the Razorbacks are coming off a 93-point outburst in their final conference game that set program records for field goals made and margin of victory, and shot 60 percent from the field.
“Scoring as well as we did against Ole Miss gives us some momentum going into the tournament,” redshirt senior Erin Gatling
explained. “We truly believe that there is not a team in the conference we can’t beat. We have so much confidence because we know we are a good team.”
Arkansas draws Florida in the first round, and will face the Gators for the second time in a week. The Razorbacks felt to UF 69-58 on Feb. 28 at the Stephen O’Connell Center despite 16 points from Watkins. Florida is led by Jaterra Bonds, who scores 12.4 points per game, and Jennifer George, who averages 11.9 points and 8.1 rebounds a game. Arkansas has previously faced Florida four times at the SEC Tournament, with a record of 1-3.
“The SEC has proved to be the best conference in the country,” Collen explained. “There is no argument about the strength at the top, and it’s going to be real competitive top to bottom. It is going to be a battle. We are starting to get comfortable and come together. If we play with confidence and make shots, that’s the best team we have.”