EL PASO, Texas – University of Arkansas junior C’eira Ricketts earned Defensive MVP honors and teammates Sarah Watkins and Lyndsay Harris were selected to the all-tournament team leading the Razorbacks to a 59-56 win and the tournament title at UTEP Saturday.
Arkansas (7-0) picked up the hard-fought win over the host UTEP Miners (4-2) in a game that featured seven tied scores and 13 lead changes in a back-and-forth track meet for the title at the UTEP Thanksgiving Tournament.
"I told the team after the game that sometimes teams on their way to greatness find a way to win these kinds of games," Arkansas head coach Tom Collen said. "It was an ugly game, no doubt about it, but down the stretch we showed enough composure to win and that’s what good teams do. It’s another step in the right direction for us."
Arkansas struggled in the first half shooting just 31 percent and the Razorbacks hit just five of 12 free throws in the first period.
UTEP seemed to have all the momentum early and took a five-point, 20-15 lead at the 7:57 mark in the first frame.
But Arkansas forced a five-point swing in 10 seconds. Harris hit a three-pointer bringing Arkansas within two. It was her first basket of the game and she hit only two for the half.
The Razorbacks forced a turnover and the ball was funneled into junior Ashley Daniels who laid it up and in. The basket tied the game at 20 and seemed to flip a switch in the Razorbacks.
At this point, the sea-saw battle began with Arkansas staying close but trailing by two, 26-28, at the half.
It didn’t get any easier in the second half as the Razorbacks again looked a little rattled to start the final period. UTEP led by five twice but the Razorbacks would not go away.
Arkansas found itself up one, 56-55, with 1:36 left in the game, but a free throw tied the game for the seventh time at 56-all.
Ricketts was fouled on the next possession and hit one of two as Arkansas would again lead, 57-56, with 1:22 to play.
The teams exchanged missed shots and timeouts when Arkansas came away with the ball and 33 seconds to play. UTEP let 20 seconds run off the clock before realizing the need to foul. They committed the foul with 13 seconds left in the game but it was just the third team foul and the Miners found themselves having to foul several more times in an effort to send Arkansas to the line.
With 10 seconds left to play, Ricketts was fouled and went to the line. She was 2-for-4 but hit two clutch bonus shots giving the Razorbacks a 59-56 lead and virtually securing the Arkansas win.
UTEP in-bounded the ball and Arkansas elected to foul in front of the UTEP bench with five seconds on the clock forcing the Minors to reset the offense. They got the ball in and launched a desperation three missing as time ran out.
Harris and freshman Keira Peak led all scorers with 16 points each while Watkins finished with 15 points and eight boards for Arkansas.
Peak was 3-for-6 with nine points and three boards in the first half almost single-handedly keeping Arkansas in the game.
Ricketts finished the night with eight points and Daniels added four as just five players scored in the win.
The Razorbacks travel to Texas-Arlington Tuesday as the four-game road swing continues.