FAYETTEVILLE – University of Arkansas junior C’eira Ricketts poured in 21 points and had eight rebounds leading the Razorbacks to a season-opening win over Florida A&M, 71-62, in Bud Walton Arena Friday.
Ricketts was one shy of her career best and was one of three Razorbacks in double-digits. Arkansas opens the season 1-0, while Florida A&M is 0-1.
"I didn’t feel like I had 21 points," Ricketts laughed after the game. "I felt off today but I just kept playing and trying to help the team."
The Razorbacks won the tip and took the opening drive down the court finishing with a jumper from sophomore Sarah Watkins to start the game. Watkins finished with 11 points and seven rebounds after giving Arkansas the first lead, a lead they would never surrender.
The first half was a face-paced affair and Arkansas had the conditioning and depth to run with a very tough defensive team in the Rattlers. The Razorbacks put together an early, 10-2, scoring run taking a 19-7 lead at the midway point of the first half that helped Tom Collen’s team build some momentum.
"We played well in the first half," Collen said. "We got out quickly and that’s exactly what we wanted to do. We were able to take advantage of some of their early mistakes and turn those into points."
Arkansas stretched the first half to as many as 17 before going into the break leading 14, 36-22. The Razorbacks forced Florida A&M into 19 first-half turnovers and converted those into 17 points.
The second half was a different story. Florida A&M settled in and went to work defensively against Arkansas. The Razorbacks had just eight first-half turnovers but committed 11 in the second frame allowing A&M to chip away at the lead.
The double-digit lead was gone at the 14:21 mark when Florida A&M got a layup from Qiana Donald, cutting the Razorback advantage to nine. Donald had six points and led all players with 12 rebounds.
Arkansas found themselves in a scrappy contest with the Rattlers who challenged every shot the Razorbacks took. A&M cut the lead to three, 61-58, when Ricketts stepped back for a long three again stretching the lead just out of the Rattlers’ reach with just over three minutes to play.
Florida A&M had to foul as the minutes wound down and the Razorbacks were able to convert on enough for the nine-point win.
"I was definitely uncomfortable near the end of the game," Collen said. "We knew they were a team that wouldn’t go away. I’m glad to have this one behind us."
Junior Lyndsay Harris finished with 18 points and was 7-for-10 from the line. Watkins added 11 and freshman Keira Peak dropped in eight with seven rebounds in her Razorback debut.
"I thought we came out with good intensity and that we were well-prepared for the game," Harris said. "We were a bit sluggish in the second half and had to dig ourselves out. I never felt any panic…it was more a sense of urgency."
The Elementary Day crowd of 4,107 cheered Arkansas throughout the contest.
"The crowd was amazing," Collen said. "They were loud and really into the game. I really appreciate all the efforts from everyone, including Amber Shirey (Director of Operations) to make this event happen. It was great and I can’t wait to do it again."
The Razorbacks host their first five games of the season in Bud Walton Arena and return to the floor Sunday at 1 p.m. for Davidson.