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FAYETTEVILLE, Ark. — It’s long been said that defense wins championships and defense was certainly what sparked a non-conference win for the University of Arkansas women’s basketball team over Kansas State in Bud Walton Arena Wednesday.
Trailing, 55-58, with 1:12 to play, the Razorbacks (5-1) began fouling Kansas State (2-4) in a comeback effort. Fouls from freshman Dominique Robinson, sophomore C’eira Ricketts and sophomore Lyndsay Harris sprinkled among a pair of 30 second timeouts ran the clock to 20 seconds when Ricketts laid the ball up and in cutting the lead to one.
The Razorbacks forced a Kansas State turnover out of a timeout when Ricketts tipped the inbounds pass. The loose ball bounced in the corner and Ricketts scooped it up. She spun, dribbled to the paint and her short jumper over a pair of defenders gave Arkansas the lead with 15 ticks remaining.
Kansas State had a final opportunity out of their last timeout, inbounding the ball and having to go the length of the court. Taelor Karr took possession for the Wildcats and drove down the left side of the floor. She sprinted to the paint for the layup but Razorback freshman Sarah Watkins was waiting.
Watkins planted her feet and took the charge all but ending Kansas State’s hopes. Watkins next stepped to the line calming swishing the first free throw but missed the second. A wild, last second shot by Kansas State never reached the basket and Arkansas escaped with the win.
“It was a great win but not a pretty one,” Arkansas head coach Tom Collen said. “We were really frustrated with the effort in the first half. When push came to shove in the end we found a way to win. We got a steal and a nice defensive play from Sarah at the end.
“We didn’t play with a lot of desire in the first half and that’s frustrating,” Collen continued. “We changed the lineup to start the second half and it made a difference. We feel pretty good about getting out of here with a win.”
“It was one of those games where you have to just keep fighting and keep playing hard,” Ricketts said. “Our coaches had confidence in us and that was important when we got down. We were a little gassed out there tonight. We got cold and tightened up but we pushed through and found a way to get the win.”
Arkansas finished the night shooting just 43 percent in a 25-of-58 performance. Ricketts led the Razorbacks with 16 points with 10 each from senior Charity Ford and freshman Quistelle Williams. Ricketts was 8-for-15 with five rebounds and six assists.
The Razorbacks had just three three-pointers and were 7-of-9 from the line. Arkansas was out-rebounded 24-33 but outscored Kansas State, 15-2, on second-chance points.
Kansas State had four players in double figures led by Ashley Sweat with 18. Four Wildcats played all 40 minutes of the game, something that may have been a factor down the stretch.
“I thought we did a nice job the majority of the game controlling the tempo and keeping the game within reach,” Kansas State head coach Deb Patterson said. “The difference was the last five minutes. Arkansas really stepped up the tempo and defensive pressure and we got tentative and turned the ball over.
“C’eira is a great player,” Patterson continued. “She stepped up big at the end. She got a great read on the steal and once she gets her motor going you know it’s going to be a make. She makes big plays and is very confident and aggressive for a young player.”
The first half was steady and methodical for much of the period. Arkansas committed just seven turnovers and there were only seven combined fouls by both teams. The score was tied four times and there were nine lead changes in the opening stanza but neither team really controlled the pace of play. Kansas State managed as much as a seven-point lead but couldn’t put Arkansas away in the first half.
The second half got out to a similar start with no real spark by either team. Kansas State just chipped away at the scoring increasing its lead to 12, 50-38, but a 13-2 Razorback run put the game back in reach for Arkansas.
The Wildcat lead dwindled to three, 54-51, with just over five minutes to play when Arkansas stepped up the defensive effort changing the game for good.
Arkansas hits the road Saturday but remains in the Big 12 traveling to Oklahoma for a 2 p.m. contest in Norman, Okla. The Razorbacks host Coppin State Dec. 8, in the final home contest before the holidays.