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All In. All The Time.

BY ANDRES FOCIL
All In.  All The Time.

The University of Arkansas women’s basketball team is coming off its most successful season under head coach Tom Collen. In fact, they are coming off one of the most successful years since joining the Southeastern Conference. Eight consecutive SEC wins, a program-best tie for fourth place in the standings, two rounds deep into the SEC Tournament matched by a second round appearance at the NCAA Tournament are just a few of highlights. But now what? Arkansas lost three starters from a year ago including the leading scorer and the leading rebounder. They return to a league full of great teams ready to make their push to the top of the standings and they have two newcomers to the conference schedule to contend with. But none of that seems to be on the minds of Collen or the Razorbacks. All they see is one team, all in, all the time. The goals remain the same and the commitment to success on the court, in the classroom and in the community are as strong as ever. “I’m very excited about this team for a variety of reasons,” Collen said. “We had a lot of players on the team last year that probably just needed an opportunity to play more and they would have competed at a high level. Some of those players just need the seasoning of game time action.”
BACKCOURT “This year’s team has a lot of energy and they are more disciplined than some of my teams in the past,” Collen said. “The chemistry is pretty good and we are all on the same page early in the season. Everyone is going to have to contribute and I think that’s a positive as long as we stay healthy.” Arkansas graduated one of the most recognizable backcourts in the SEC last year in C’eira Ricketts and Lyndsay Harris. The duo accounted for nearly one third of the scoring for Arkansas last year. “We lost two four-year starters in C’eira Ricketts and Lindsay Harris,” Collen said. “That’s a lot of experience to replace. We have a few players who have the potential to be just as productive and we’ll need them to step up fast as the season begins.” Sophomore Calli Berna returns as the clear leader in the backcourt for the Razorbacks. The Fayetteville, Ark., native was a starter for the entire non-conference season and averaged 25.8 minutes playing in all 33 games in 2011-12. “Calli started 14 games for us at the beginning of last season, and I consider her a returning starter,” Collen said. “She was always on the floor for us in crucial situations and gained a lot of experience. The fact that she made the SEC All-Freshman team says a lot about how the coaches in this league feel about her potential. She is a quiet leader. A good defender. And an excellent shooter. She makes good decisions with the basketball which is a premium quality for your point guard. She must become more aggressive offensively. We will need for her to score more than last season.” Joining Berna are seniors Erin Gatling and Kelsey Hatcher along with freshmen Dominique Wilson and Mia Melton. Gatling played in 17 games last year and took care of the basketball while on the court. “Erin is going to be more impactful for us than many conference coaches may realize,” Collen said. “What she lacks in stature at 5’5”, she makes for in desire and hustle. She is an excellent shooter, maybe the best on our roster. She can play the point guard or the shooting guard and replace some of the scoring we lost in Lindsay Harris. I think our fans always appreciated her when she was on the floor and this year I think she will play just as hard but play a little more relaxed. She will help us on the defensive side of the ball as well. She is a mature fifth-year senior that has been waiting for this opportunity for a long time.” Hatcher is also a fifth-year in-state senior who has improved with each season. She also played in 17 games last year and hit nearly 28 percent from three-point range for the Razorbacks. “Kelsey has great basketball knowledge and her skill set is excellent,” Collen said. “She can shoot the ball and play the point guard or the shooting guard and will compete for a starting position.” The freshman class is loaded with ball handlers and all three are expected to challenge for minutes this year. “We are really excited about Dominique Wilson,” Collen said. “She worked hard from the day she stepped on campus and has not stopped improving yet. She will give us a great option at the off guard position and will compete with Kelsey and Erin for a starting position. “She shoots it pretty well and can put it on the floor. Like our other three guards, she can play the point if needed and we feel pretty good with the ball in her hands.” Melton is a legacy player following in her mother’s footsteps as a women’s basketball player for the Razorbacks. Melton was a defensive stopper in high school and adds depth to the Razorback backcourt. “Mia is a first-year player for us and has improved a lot since she joined the team,” Collen said. “She has done everything we have asked her to do and has been a great teammate. She knows she has work to do but her mind-set has been very positive.”
FRONTCOURT Arkansas has several options in the frontcourt this year. Six returners with playing time including All-SEC second team selection Sarah Watkins provide both leadership and depth to the three, four and five positions. Watkins tallied 63 blocks and is third all-time at Arkansas with 161 career rejections. In addition to her shot-blocking ability, Watkins scored 10.0 ppg and scored in double figures in 17 contests as a junior. She also had one double-digit rebounding game grabbing a season-best 10 rebounds. “There is no doubt Sarah Watkins is a key returning player for us after being named to All-SEC team two years in a row,” Collen said. “She is a marked player just like Ricketts and Harris were the last four years. She will need to take her game to another level and be more consistent. She has worked hard this past summer and I think she is up to the challenge. She had a small setback late in the summer when she fractured a bone in her left wrist but should be OK for the start of practice. Her inside outside scoring ability is hard to defend and we need to maximize that talent. She will need to touch the ball on most possessions and make good decisions when the defense comes after her.” Williams stepped up big for the Razorbacks in the postseason last year. Steady all season, she averaged 5.3 ppg adn 4.4 rpg with four games, including two in the NCAA Tournament, in double figures. “Quistelle has a golden opportunity and we all need her to take advantage of it. Someone has to step up and play on Watkins’ flank,” Collen said. “Q has, at times, has played like an all conference forward like she did the NCAA tournament last season when she led us in scoring both games. She has good shooting touch and could be our best rebounder.” Peak and ‘Nique were defensive stoppers for Arkansas helping the Razorbacks finish in the top 10 in the country in most of the defensive stat categories. “Keira had a great summer and has started to become a leader for us,” Collen said. “She has always been a hard worker and our fans know they can always count on her best effort. She has become more consistent with her jumper and is working on improving her range. We will be counting on her to give us a little more scoring and rebounding this year. “Dominique will be a key player for us but will be fighting her way back from off season shoulder surgery.,” Collen continued. “She has been held out of contact for a pretty long period of time. I don’t worry about her jumping back in and being aggressive because it’s one of her greatest qualities. She has always been one of our best on ball defenders and rebounders. She is anxious to get back and have a great year. The tandem of her and Keira has always been something we depend on.” Also returning for Arkansas is Jhasmine Bowen and Joey Bailey. Bowen played in 15 games last year with 3.1 ppg getting some good minutes in her first year. “Jhasmine has been waiting for the opportunity to show why she was ranked as a top 75 recruit nationally her senior year in high school,” Collen said. “I think she is ready to surprise some people. At first glance she may seem a little undersized in the post but she has three key elects that I think will allow her to succeed. She is incredibly strong, she has soft shooting touch, and without question she gives you everything she has. She has worked hard on her face up game and is in excellent shape. But I still think she can make her living in the low post area. Our fans will be very happy with her emergence this season.” Bailey saw time in just eight games before a broken nose sidelined her for the remainder of the season. “We decided to redshirt Joey after she had a facial fracture and I I’m glad we went that direction,” Collen said. “She has the maturity now to play beyond her freshman classification. She is another post with good range and excellent work habits. I think she will find a way quickly and compete with Q and Jhasmin for a starting position beside Sarah.” Two newcomers round out the Arkansas backcourt. Melissa Wolff checks in from Cabot, Ark., where she paced her high school team to the state championship game last year. “Melissa is another freshman that has a chance to be impactful,” Collen said. “We are not sure where she will play yet, but we know she is versatile. She had to play the post in high school so I know she is tough enough to push and shove if we need her in the high post area. But I think she is a good decision maker and has good shooting touch so she could help us on the perimeter as well. She will compete hard so I know she will find a way to get on the floor and help us.” Freshman Ana-Carlota Faussurier joins the Razorbacks this year but will redshirt the 2012-13 season. “We were hoping to have Ana this season but because the eligibility process for her started a little to late we have decided to redshirt her. I think it will make her transition from Spain to the U.S. a little easier for her, and I think she will be a better player in the long run. She is an excellent face up forward with great shooting touch. She is adapting to the physicality of the American game, but she backs down from no one. Next season I’m certain a will look at her and be glad that she is only a freshman. She already has many years of experience at the highest international level and that experience will pay off somewhere down the line.”
THE BIG PICTURE “I’m really excited about this team,” Collen said. “We have several players who have been waiting for the opportunity to step up and contribute for a long time.” Arkansas’ schedule will challenge them early and often, long before the start of the always tough SEC schedule. The Razorbacks face 11 teams who participated in the postseason a year ago and opens with five of the first six games on the road. “We have a pretty challenging schedule in the preseason for such an inexperienced team so it would help to get off to a good start,” Collen said. “Our games early at Tulsa and ORU will be good tests. We will need to play like a veteran team to win on the road. It’s an extended road trip to play in Hawai’i against national power Oklahoma then PAC-12 member Oregon. Throw in a game at host Hawai’i and it’s a tough start to the season. Our toughest challenge may be Sweet Sixteen participant Kansas at home. If we can survive all that with our confidence in tact, we might be ready for the SEC.” The SEC is always tough and this year the Razorbacks welcome Missouri and Texas A&M to the family. Although the schedule remains at 16 games, the road to one of the top spots in the conference definitely got tougher. “The SEC will be another challenge. Once again, the schedule is very tough in the first five games. It’s all about survival in this league. The SEC may be tougher this season than any time in it’s history with a lot of league teams returning veteran squads. On the surface, it looks like there are five or six teams that are locks for the NCAA Tourney barring injury. It will be a mad scramble to finish sixth through eighth for a lot of really good teams to make the postseason.”



Sports Category : Basketball (W)