ABOUT THE RAZORBACKS: Arkansas begins its second season with Tom Collen as the head coach. The Razorbacks sport one of the nation’s top 25 recruiting classes, and the six newcomers is the most for Arkansas’ women’s basketball team in several seasons. The Razorbacks return a pair of senior leaders in Ayana Brereton and Whitney Jones. Brereton was the team’s top scorer in Southeastern Conference games last season, and Jones was the top rebounder versus the SEC. Newcomers like freshmen guards Ceira Ricketts and Lyndsay Harris have brought a new scoring power for the Razorbacks from the perimeter.
NEW FACES ON THE CAROLINA BENCH: Future hall of fame player Dawn Staley takes over as the head coach for South Carolina. The three-time Olympic gold medalist led Temple to six NCAA appearances as the head Owl before changing her feathers. In fact, the USC bench sports six Olympic golds — two for Nikki McCray and one for Carla McGhee. If you go pro, the entire staff has playing or coaching experience in every significant American women’s league — ABL and WNBA — when you add Lisa Boyer’s considerable college and pro career.
FACULTY-STAFF NIGHT FOR USC: Vouchers inviting all University of Arkansas faculty and staff members went out earlier, and they are all invited to attend Thursday.
ADAMS OUT FOR YEAR CHANGES USC: Arkansas fans will recognize Demetress Adams — a player who started the first 18 games this year for the Gamecocks and was averaging 10.7 ppg and 7.2 rpg. She suffered a season-ending injury last week.
JERSEY CHANGE FOR USC: Jewel May is wearing #24 to honor Demetress Adams who is out for the rest of her season year with injury.
MORE INJURIES: Brionna Dickerson is USC’s leading scorer, but she went down with a right knee injury against Vanderbilt. According to USC, she is rehabing to try and return at some point this season. That’s two games straight with knees for the Gamecocks.
THAT’S TWO OF TOP THREE: Without Adams and Dickerson, Carolina has only one player averaging in double digits for the season, Lakeisha Sutton at 10.8 ppg. Since the injuries started, USC is on a four-game losing streak.
THE SMALL GET SMALLER: Losing Demetress Adams took the only player off the USC roster that had a height advantage on Arkansas. The Razorbacks now enjoy the height both in the starting lineup and off the bench.
AND WHY DO WE FOCUS ON ADAMS?: If you check the last meeting box score, that would be Demetress Adams torching Arkansas with 18 points and 26 rebounds. Yes, 26 boards. As in the same number of rebounds as the entire Razorback team in last year’s game — 26.
RICKETTS FRESHMAN OF THE WEEK, AGAIN: Ceira Ricketts earned her fourth league freshman honor after Arkansas split with LSU and Georgia. Ricketts turned in her second double-double with points and assists of the season with 12 points and 10 assists at Georgia. She was Arkansas’ leading scorer earlier in the week at LSU with 11 points. Ricketts also enjoyed her best week of three-point shooting against conference opponents, hitting 33% from behind the arc. For those scoring at home, the most freshman of the year weeks belongs to Tennessee’s Angie Bjorkland, who picked up the award five times last season.
SHIPS THAT PASS IN THE NIGHT: Carolina arrives in Fayetteville after a heartbreaking one-point loss in the last seconds to Ole Miss while the Razorbacks are flying high following a historic win at Georgia and try to get on a role.
DON’T GET REAL EXCITED JUST YET: In the walk before you run category, Arkansas hasn’t won consecutive SEC regular season games since three in a row in January 2007. Before that, Arkansas won consecutive games with Miss State and Florida in 2006 and traveled to South Carolina on Jan. 29 — guess who started a nine-game conference losing streak, that’s right, USC.
STAT ADVANTAGES: Arkansas has better season shooting and scoring marks, but two very important advantages are in ball handling. The Razorbacks have a 0.8:1 assist-to-turnover ratio while USC is down at 0.5:1. Arkansas is averaging a +2.2 turnover margin overall to USC’s -3.3.
IF THE TOURNAMENT WERE PLAYED TODAY: Arkansas would be the 10-seed playing one of MSU/Georgia/LSU as the seven-seed at 2:30 on Thursday. The winner would take on second-seed Florida at 2:30 on Friday.
THINGS JUST GOT REAL INTERESTING: The reason Arkansas’ 7-10 opponent is unclear is an unbreakable tie exists today at No. 5 among Miss State, Georgia and LSU. State beat LSU, but Georgia beat MSU. This gets settled next week with LSU playing at Georgia. If LSU wins, the three are tied at 1-1. If Georgia wins, they hold tiebreaker at 2-0 versus the other two teams.
CAROLINA PLAYING FOR SUNLIGHT: The Gamecocks need to beat Arkansas to pull themselves back into the tie for 10th, and then would hold tiebreaker over the Razorbacks. The 11th and 12th seeds play the night games on Day One and Day Two at the SEC Tournament.
IT ALL SHAKES OUT FOR ARKANSAS IN THE NEXT TWO WEEKS: The Razorbacks play all three teams in their neighborhood of the SEC standings, starting next Thursday with co-10th place South Carolina. Arkansas hosts ninth-place Ole Miss on Sunday, then after a quick trip to Florida plays 12th place Alabama.
AUTOMATIC FOR THE PEOPLE: Charity Ford came off the bench in the second half and was clutch for the Razorbacks in the final three minutes at Georgia. Ford’s jumper at 2:44 started the decisive run for Arkansas. She backed it with a fast-breack three-pointer and the 13-3 close for the game was on. The Lady Bulldogs sent Ford to the line three times in the last 90 seconds — twice in the final 30 — and the 5-8 junior from Arlington was, you guessed it, automatic with six straight free throws.
TREY MANIFIQUE: The Georgia Conference Center had TV5 from France on the cable, and maybe that explains a SEC game best 10-of-24 versus the Lady Bulldogs. The 10 made three pointers is one shy of the season high (11 twice in non-conference).
BENCH BEST: Charity Ford’s career high 22 points off the bench along with Ashley McCray’s 15 lead the way to a season-high scoring effort from the bench with 40 points at Georgia.
THE FIGHT FOR FEBRUARY BEGINS: Tom Collen proclaimed at the close of a tough January that saw Arkansas play the defending national champion (Tennessee), the preseason pick to win the league (Vanderbilt) and the team that’s actually doing the job (Auburn) that the season was now about a Fight for February.
WE’RE NOT GONNA LIE — IT FEELS GOOD: Arkansas got its first win in the month of February since Feb. 13, 2005, at Georgia. That snaps a pair of concurrent 27-game streaks — 27 overall since the Feb. 13 game was against Georgia Tech and 27 SEC since Arkansas won the previous game on Feb. 10 against Alabama.
FORD FACTOR: Charity Ford returned to the team full-time with the Miss State game, and the Razorbacks are a better team with their sixth-player star. Ford went out of the lineup in December with an acute stress fracture, and was highly limited in her playing time prior to full clearance at MSU on Jan. 25. Arkansas is 2-3 since Ford’s return, with one of the losses an overtime thriller at Vanderbilt. Think it is coincidental? Arkansas had Ford for six games — the five recent and Kentucky. In those games, the Razorbacks shot 40.5% from the field. In the five games without in 2009, Arkansas shoots 35.5%.
MARK THAT OFF THE LIST: Arkansas win at Georgia snaps a nine-game losing streak in SEC play at Athens. The Razorbacks had a win at Stegeman Coliseum from the 1990 NCAA Tournament second round when Arkansas was the champion of the Southwest Conference. That just leaves Oxford and Knoxville on the Neverland list.
ONE MARGIN YOU WANT: Arkansas outrebounded Georgia, 41-33, continuing a trend that started with the started during conference games. The Razorbacks are +3.1 rebounds per game against league opponents, with Auburn having the largest margin (-7). Arkansas has outrebounded three of the last four opponents, and played very close to even with several taller teams (notably Tennessee, just -4).
NOT THE MARGIN YOU WANT: Since SEC play started, Arkansas is averaging a -4.7 turnover margin. Every game the Razorbacks have been negative except at Miss State (-1), Arkansas has lost. None of Arkansas’ SEC foes have given up more than 15 turnovers this season, with LSU turning in an opponent season low to date of only seven. Notable is the Georgia game, the first even game 11 for, 11 against, in SEC play.
McCRAY BRINGIN’ IT IN CONFERENCE: Junior college transfer Ashley McCray is averaging only 5.2 ppg and 3.8 rpg for the season. She’s played in 22 of Arkansas’ 24 games (missing one for a death in the family) and starting five times. She’s become a starter in Tom Collen’s big lineup when the Razorback coach wants more size from the opening tip. Her numbers are deceptive, as McCray has turned it up in SEC games to average 8.6 ppg and 5.0 rpg.
JONES PULLIN’ LEAGUE BOARDS: Whitney Jones has a similar SEC only story. While the senior’s scoring has dropped below double-digits for the year at 9.4 ppg and 7.7 ppg for SEC games, her rebounding is on another level against the big posts of the SEC — going from 8.0 rpg for the full season to 8.9 against league opponents.
SERIES: Perhaps it is the proximity to the world leader in poultry processing, but the Gamecocks have won only one game in Fayetteville and Arkansas leads the overall series 13-8. Arkansas is 8-1 at home versus USC, but the Gamecocks have a three-game winning streak.
GOT A BONE TO PICK: Last visit to Fayetteville, the Gamecocks escaped with their first victory at Bud Walton Arena.
PASTRY PROBLEMS: The Razorbacks are 2-9 when they force less than 15 turnovers from opponents, and a similar 1-9 when they commit more turnovers than the opponent.
SALUTE TO SWEAT HAWGS DELAYED: With the ice storms, wide-spread power outages and elementary schools out for almost all of this week, the special Sweat Hawgs promotion originally set for Sunday’s Florida game is rescheduled for the Alabama game on Feb. 22. All vouchers issued for the Florida game will be honored on Feb. 22, and the originally scheduled Sweat Hawg halftime will take place that day.
TOP FROSH: It seems that 2009 is the year of the freshman in the SEC with huge recruiting classes playing significant roles at several schools. Of all the freshman, Arkansas’ Ceira Ricketts has established herself as the statistical leader of a talented class.
OVERALL — ALL GAMES
POINTS SCORED: 327 points
(#1 Freshman, 7th Overall)
SCORING AVG: 13.6 ppg (#1 Freshman, 7th)
REBOUNDS: 6.1 rpg (#3 Freshman, 14th)
FG %: .453 (#1 Freshman-5th)
FT%: .728 (#2 Freshman-9th)
ASSISTS: 3.9 apg (#1 Freshman-7th)
STEALS: 2.8 spg (#1 Freshman-1st)
ASST-TO RATIO: 1.6 (#1 Freshman-4th)
DEF. BOARDS: 4.4 (#1 Freshman-7th)
MINS. PLAYED: 30.8 (#2 Freshman-10th)
BEWARE THE DEAD ZONE: The Clif Notes — when Arkansas skids between the second (12:00 and under) and third (8:00 and under) time outs, bad things happen. The two games of 2009 without that opponent run? Miss State and Georgia. The two SEC wins to date; same.
BEWARE THE DEAD ZONE, UNABRIDGED: For the Arkansas Razorbacks, the second media time out (the under 12:00 break) marks the start of an offensive black hole that started just after New Year’s Day. Roughly around the 12 to 9 minute mark, Arkansas has suffered game-deciding runs. The hallmark of the runs are a lack of Arkansas offense, not an outpouring of opponent production. Throughout, the Arkansas defense is holding teams to “walks” rather than runs. Consider the two most recent losses. Tennessee held Arkansas scoreless for almost seven minutes starting at 8:33, but could only manage 11 points. Auburn limited Arkansas for almost five minutes starting at 11:50, but could only advance the margin eight points (11-3). Still, the second half stall has cost Arkansas five straight — Tennessee (11-0), Auburn (11-3), Kentucky (10-2), LSU (8-0, after an earlier 12-0 to start the half) and Texas Tech (15-1). Florida had a 12-0 run in the zone to push to its largest lead. The Razorbacks took one at Vanderbilt (10-1) that also gave the Commodores their largest lead of 15; however, the Razorbacks returned the favor with a 19-4 close to overtime. Proof in the pudding? Arkansas two SEC wins had no Dead Zone — a 9-4 UA advantage in the time slot at Miss State; and a 10-4 UA performance with Georgia. To Arkansas credit, in every game, the Razorbacks made comebacks to narrow the gap, and played even basketball the final four minutes of each game. However, the damage was done by the final media time out near the 4:00 mark.
DEFENSE DOWN THE STRETCH: Opponents must exploit the Dead Zone, because if they don’t, Arkansas defense will clamp down hard at the close of the game. The pressure is stronger on the road as the Razorbacks have allowed only one field goal in the final five minutes of the last three road conference games. Vanderbilt needed overtime to escape the 7:14 vise. Kentucky used free throws to overcome a 6:33 close without a field goal. Miss State had two free throws but no field goals in the last 4:02. Georgia had one field goal and got run 13-3 in the final three minutes.
FORD GAME-TO-GAME UNTIL MSU: Charity Ford missed the Auburn game, and was a game-time decision until Miss State. She came off the bench for a season-high at Kentucky. The junior guard had been out with a leg injury that she suffered during the holidays. She missed the Stetson game, back in the boot on her left leg. A new series of scans revealed an acute stress fracture, and she will be on the sidelines for a while. Originally, she missed the game with Missouri, and did not dress after her leg injury against Dartmouth. As dramatic as it appeared when Ford collided with a Dartmouth player and landed awkwardly on her left leg, the junior guard got a clean bill of health at the doctors. She returned to the court for Western Illinois, turning in 24 minutes. However, pain returned and MRIs were ordered, revealing the fracture.
ONCE, TWICE, THREE TIMES FRESHMAN OF THE WEEK: Ceira Ricketts was named the SEC Freshman of the Week for the second consecutive week. The freshman from Louisville, Ky., averaged 18.5 ppg and 6.5 rpg for the past week, including a near double versus then No. 10 Tennessee with 22 points and nine rebounds, then 13 points as Arkansas’ top-scoring starter at Miss State for the Razorbacks first conference win of the year. The freshman also led all players in the game with six assists and three steals vs. UT. At Miss State, Ricketts had 13 points and four steals as the top scoring starter for the Razorbacks. Ricketts led the team in assists in Arkansas first win against a SEC opponent. The win at State broke a five-game losing streak dating back to the Jan. 3. For the week, Ricketts exceeded her season averages and SEC-game only averages with 18.5 ppg, 6.5 rpg, 4.5 and 3.5 spg. She becomes the first Razorback to win three SEC weekly honors in the same season.
RICKETTS MAKES HISTORY: Freshman Ceira Ricketts became the first women’s basketball player in Arkansas history to record a triple double in a regular season game. We’ll make the caveat of known triple as the early year box scores are sketchy or nonexistent. Nevertheless, since modern NCAA era, only a handful of Razorbacks have come close. Most notable — Sally Moore was within an assist in 1990 against Oklahoma (18p/13r/9a) and Brittney Vaughn was within a rebound in 2006 against St. Louis (13p/9r/10a). Research continues to confirm, but the search of the likely suspects and old records Sunday evening turned up no evidence to not give the mark to the freshman.
RICKETTS TIES ASSIST RECORDS: Ceira Ricketts’ 12 assists tied the Arkansas freshman class record for most assists in a game. Amy Wright held the mark with 12 against LSU in 1999. Ricketts also shares the UA mark for most assists in a regular season SEC game with Wright and Rochelle Vaughn, who had her 12 against Georgia in 2004. For the game, Ricketts had as many assists as #6 Auburn had as a team.
AND, RICKETTS GETS FRESHMAN OF THE WEEK: In recognition of the above notations, freshman Ceira Ricketts was selected the SEC Freshman of the Week. It is her second FOTW honor (Nov. 26), and makes her the first repeat freshman honoree in Razorback history. Additionally, she’s only the third Arkansas player to pick up two “of the week” awards from the SEC for women’s basketball. Two seasons ago, Lauren Ervin had a pair of player of the weeks and Shameka Christon had one player of the week and a co-player back in 2004.
RICKETTS BACK TO NO. 1: Freshman Ceira Ricketts leads the league with 2.8 steals per game. During non-conference play, Ricketts was the leader or No. 2 most of the early weeks. Her 48 total steals is also the most in the league. Nationally, Ricketts is 28th, up two spots from 30th last week.
FIRST TIME — RICKETTS NAMED SEC FRESHMAN OF THE WEEK: After a week that saw her move from sub to starter to team’s leading scorer, Ceira Ricketts was named the SEC Freshman of the Week for Nov. 24. Ricketts had double digits in all three games for the week, notching then career highs in points (18, SMU), rebounds (9, Northwestern), assists (4, High Point) and steals (5, High Point). Ricketts was Arkansas leading scorer on average for the three-game run, and emerged as the team’s overall leading scorer with 13 ppg for the season. She averages 4 steals per game to start the season. Ricketts is the third Razorback named freshman of the week. The last time was Donica Cosby from Nov. 2006. Her teammate, Whitney Jones, was the first-ever SEC freshman of the week back in December 2005.
FRESHMEN STARTERS: Lyndsay Harris got the nod to start against La-Monroe, making her the first freshman to start on opening day since Tanisha Smith in 2005 as the Razorbacks tipped off the year at Clemson.
MILLIONTH FAN FOR TENNESSEE: In 33 years of women’s basketball at Arkansas, to date, 999,286 fans have attended Razorback games in Fayetteville. The season-high 3,916 for Tennessee brought the millionth fan to Razorback women’s basketball at home. Arkansas entered the season with 984,206 total recorded fans (attendance records prior to 1985 are incomplete), and registered 18,996 so far in 2008-09 for 14 home games.
DARSHAE BURNSIDE: One of the West Coast’s best rebounders, Darshae Burnside of San Bernadino, Calif., was the first women’s basketball player of the early period to sign a National Letter of Intent with the University of Arkansas. The 6-3 center-forward from Cajon High School in San Bernadino is ranked top 100 by most of the prep prospect services. She was singled out by ESPN.com as one of the top players at the Nike Regional Skills Academy in May. Burnside is the second California prep star to sign with Arkansas under Collen. Last fall, Arkansas signed Jamesha Townsend from the San Diego area. Arkansas’ recent star junior college transfer, Lauren Ervin, was from the Los Angeles area, and last spring was a draft pick of the Connecticut Sun. Last season, Burnside averaged 15.5 ppg and 16.1 rpg for the Cajon. The Cowgirls to the California Interscholastic Federation Southern Section 2A title with a 30-4 overall record. In the state title game, Burnside had 12 points, 14 rebounds and three blocked shots as CHS defeated Ayala, 51-47. Only two teams held her to single digits, with a season high of 33 points against Ontario (Calif.). As a sophomore, Burnside was first-team all-state as one of the top rebounders in the country and the No. 4 shot-blocker in the state of California.
SARAH WATKINS: Forward Sarah Watkins is one of the nation’s top 50 players. The 6-3 Watkins gives Arkansas a pair of top-flight post players in the 2009 recruiting class. California post player Darshae Burnside opened the early signing period for the Razorbacks last week Watkins is rated top 50 or top 100 by almost every notable girl’s basketball service. ESPN listed the versatile center as the No. 42 recruit in the country (and the No. 7 forward in the country), touting her ability to score from two feet to 24 feet. Already a 1,000-point career scorer by the close of her junior year, Watkins led Houston High in Germantown, Tenn., to the 8-AAA regional championship in basketball. Watkins averaged 23 ppg, 10 rpg and 5 blocks last season. She broke the HHS single-game scoring record last year with 43 points against rival Germantown, pulling down 18 rebounds with eight blocks. As a junior, Watkins was named MVP of the regional tournament, along with all-metro Memphis and several other tournament teams. The 6-3 post was also selected for both Nike Skills Academy and adidas Top Ten. Her AAU team, Memphis Elite, is a fixture on the national tournament scene. Along with her basketball talent, Watkins is a member of Houston High’s two-time district and regional golf champion squads. As a senior, she was a scoring member of HHS team that was third at the state Class AAA championship; seventh her junior year.