FAYETTEVILLE – Most fans and women’s basketball experts would agree that Tom Collen and the University of Arkansas women’s basketball team face several challenges in the coming weeks of the 2010-11season.
But Collen and his team don’t see it that way.
In fact, they are excited about the upcoming schedule that includes a trip to LSU Thursday and a home battle with No. 5 Tennessee Sunday, viewing the games, and the rest of the Southeastern Conference schedule as ‘an opportunity.’
"LSU is a great opportunity for us right now," Collen said. "They have a great tradition and great players and a Hall of Fame coach in Van Chancellor. We feel like we have closed the gap with LSU in recent years. What better way to gain confidence in ourselves then to go down there with the mindset that we can win the game?"
The Razorbacks shouldn’t lack much in confidence this year. The team got out to a 12-0 start, the second-best in program history, and jumped into the national polls with wins over No. 12 Oklahoma and No. 10 Kentucky in Bud Walton Arena.
But the always tough SEC schedule has tripped up the Razorbacks four times this season and Arkansas is currently on a two-game losing skid with losses at Vanderbilt and to Ole Miss at home.
"The Ole Miss loss was painful," acknowledged Collen. "We thought we had elevated ourselves to a level in which we could take care of teams at home.
"We came into practice this week needing to address where our confidence level is and what it was we need to do to get our confidence back. We have some good wins and a pretty good resume but we certainly have a lot more work to do."
Arkansas is paced by a three-headed scoring threat in juniors Lyndsay Harris and C’eira Ricketts and sophomore Sarah Watkins. The trio all average in double figures led by Ricketts with 13.6 ppg. Watkins is second with 13.3 ppg followed by Harris at 12.8 ppg this year.
Add to that the rebounding threat in junior Ashley Daniels and the athleticism of junior Jamesha Townsend and freshman Keira Peak and you realize just how dangerous Arkansas can be.
"We are ready to get back to work," Watkins said. "We are focusing on our defense and getting our heads back into it. "Just because we lost the last two games doesn’t mean that’s who we are. Playing LSU and Tennessee is a chance for us to prove who we are as a team. We understand that we can compete with any team in the SEC but we have to go out and put 40 minutes together."
Arkansas opens the week with one of the toughest defensive teams in the country in LSU. The Tigers lead the SEC in scoring defense allowing just 54.0 points-per-game this season. They are second in the league in field goal percent defense and third in rebounding margin – all big challenges for Arkansas.
"LSU has probably been the best defensive team in the country the last eight or 10 years," Collen said. "They are a gap defensive team and they make you earn everything from the perimeter. They crash the boards and rebound well. That is something we have to address."
The week continues when the Razorbacks return home hosting No. 5 Tennessee in a 1 p.m. television start Sunday. The first 1,000 fans receive a free women’s basketball tee shirt.