FAYETTEVILLE – Tom Collen and the University of Arkansas women’s basketball team face a big test Thursday traveling to No. 20 Kentucky for Southeastern Conference action at Memorial Coliseum.
Arkansas (18-8, 6-8 SEC) is looking to keep its postseason hopes alive and a second win over the nationally-ranked Wildcats (20-7, 9-5) would go a long way.
Arkansas defeated Kentucky in Bud Walton Arena the first week of January as SEC play was just getting underway. The Razorbacks picked up a 78-67 win shooting nearly 51 percent from the floor and holding Kentucky well below its scoring average.
Junior C’eira Ricketts paced Arkansas with 19 points followed by 18 from junior Lyndsay Harris and 14 from sophomore Sarah Watkins.
Kentucky has gone 9-4 since that game and their leading scorer, Victoria Dunlap, continues to solidify her case for SEC Player of the Year with each contest.
Arkansas, meanwhile, has weathered some changes in the team and faces a new challenge Thursday playing without the services of freshman Keira Peak who was injured in the win over LSU Sunday.
"Kentucky is a very athletic team," Collen said. "They play 94 feet and play to their strengths well. We will be without one of our better defenders, maybe one of the better defenders in the SEC, in Keira so other players will have to step up. We will rely on Yashira (Delgado) and Chrisstasia (Walter) to fill that void. You never know, one of these players is just an opportunity away from stepping out and having a big game."
Watkins has continued to play well all year and has moved into the top spot for the Razorbacks averaging 13.4 points per game this season. Junior Ashley Daniels has stepped up in recent games with double digit scoring in two of the last three games.
"We’re exciting about facing Kentucky again," Watkins said. "We have been focusing on our defensive strengths and we know that this game is another big opportunity for us."
"Our focus has been on rebounding and stopping their shooters," added Daniels. "We have to keep them from getting their points in the paint. We are also looking forward to the pace of play that Kentucky brings. They like to push the ball and play up-tempo and we play well in that style as well."
Collen echoed the focus on defense and pace of play.
"Kentucky and Alabama (Feb. 27) both push the tempo," Collen said. "We get more possessions and an opportunity to score more. Kentucky wants to turn its opponents over so we have to work hard to take care of the ball."
Arkansas follows up the Kentucky game hosting Alabama in the final SEC regular season game of the year Sunday, Feb. 27, in Bud Walton Arena. The Razorbacks then travel to the SEC Tournament in Nashville, Tenn., March 3-6. Arkansas hosts SIU-Edwardsville, March 10, as the regular season winds down.
"It’s right there," said Daniels. "These next two games can really help us in the standings. Both Kentucky and Alabama are going to give us tough games but we’re going to compete hard and have fun and see what happens."
Thursday’s game is a 5 p.m. central tip and is televised by the Big Blue Sports Network and FSN. Check local listings to see if the game is available in your area.