Finals next SMU next week for Arkansas basketball

Final exams are the next task for the Lady Razorbacks, but Arkansas finds itself climbing up the Associated Press poll to 26th — top of those receiving votes this week. The Lady’Backs have tied the best start in school history at 9-1, and return to the court on Wednesday, Dec. 13, against former Southwest Conference foe SMU. In advance of next week’s game — and for any potential AP or coach’s poll voters — here’s a preview of women’s basketball fact sheet no. 11 which will be out next Monday.

ABOUT THE MUSTANGS: Not a lot returns except starters from last year’s meeting with SMU as Rhonda Rompola has a reloading year. Four of the five starters anticipated for next week played at SMU, but only Janielle Dodds was a regular and starter in the season opener against the Lady’Backs.

IT FINALLY SLOWS DOWN AFTER THIS WEEKEND: Arkansas faces two opponents in less than 48 hours this weekend with Portland State at 7 p.m. Friday, then Texas Southern on Sunday at 2 p.m. The Lady’Backs hit the finals break and leave the court for 10 days until hosting Southern Methodist on Dec. 13. By Sunday’s game with TSU, Arkansas will have completed 1/3 — 10 of the scheduled 30 — of its regular season schedule in less than a month — 25 days.

TOP OF THE ALSOS: Arkansas vaulted to 26th — the top team among those also receiving votes — in the fourth week of the Associated Press poll. The Lady’Backs almost doubled their week three total with 40 points, and edged with 11 of joining the top 25. The early undefeated start gained Arkansas just a handful — four as a matter of fact — points in the Associated Press poll for the second week of the year. The Lady’Backs picked up steam in week three, up to 24 points in the also receiving to make Arkansas 31st. among the media. In the coaches’ poll, Arkansas enters this week at four votes, effectively 41st.

RELENTLESS: The new word for the day is relentless, and Susie Gardner is asking her young basketball team to adopt a new mentality toward every game. It certainly worked with Texas Southern as Arkansas picked up its first 50-point win since 2001, and launched the game with a 12-0 run — the best start for any game to date.

VERSUS SMU: Arkansas leads the series, 20-4, and has a two-game winning streak. The Lady’Backs are 8-2 in Fayetteville against the Mustangs. The majority of the games date from the Southwest Conference era, with Arkansas leading 2-1 in games played since the two teams were conference rivals.

LAST MEETING WITH SMU: Playing without returning leading scorer Sarah Pfeifer due to a torn ACL in the Red-White game, returning leading rebounder Danielle Allen still out after giving birth earlier in the semester and returning starting low post Kristin Moore serving a two-game suspension, Arkansas arrived at Moody Coliseum unsure of its fate against the post-dominated Mustangs. Freshman Whitney Jones removed all doubts with one of the greatest debut games in the 30-year history of the program. Jones came off the bench to hit 8-of-9 from the field, 6-of-9 at the line for 22 points in only 30 minutes played. Jones was rewarded with the distinction of becoming the first-ever SEC Freshman of the Week for her performance.

ON RECORD PACE: The Lady’Backs’ equaled the best start through 10 games with the win over TSU. There have been five other teams reach this level, including Susie Gardner’s second team at Arkansas in 2004-05. The longest runs to second loss, by the way, are 13-1 from the 1995-96 season and 12-1 the next year in 1996-97. Gardner’s 2005-05 team made 10-1 before losing an unusually early SEC opener to Georgia.

WALTON FINALLY SEEING THE BEST: Arkansas’ third home game was the first time Lady’Back home fans saw the best of some of its young players. After several high-powered road wins, Arkansas pounded a home foe from start to finish with Portland State, led by the newcomers in a near-across the board top performance.

IMAGINE WHEN SHE HAS BOTH HANDS: Lauren Ervin is tied with Sarah Elliott of Kentucky for the conference lead with 9.8 rpg through games of Nov. 28. With her 78 rebounds in eight games, she is second on raw number to Sylvia Fowles of LSU who has 82 board in nine games. Fowles and Shawn Goff of Ole Miss are tied for third with 9.1 rpg. Ervin is third in blocked shots with 2.25 per game, sixth in field goal percentage at .606 and 13th in the SEC for scoring with 12.5 ppg.

THE BEST THINGS ON THE COURT ARE FREE: Arkansas has made a dramatic turnaround at the line to start this season. The Lady’Backs continue to force the game offensively on opponents, and have made almost as many free throws — 160 — than opponents have shot — 164. Arkansas is shooting just over 70% at the line for the year. Every Lady’Back has been to the line and hit throws, with the "worst" percentage (Brittney Vaughn, 58.3%) still producing plenty of points (21-of-36).

FAST PACE TO EARLY SCHEDULE: The Lady’Backs play three games in five days starting with Lipscomb, a good simulation for the three-straight they will face at the Rainbow Wahine next week in Hawai’i. At the end of the Wahine, Arkansas had a fourth of its schedule finished with eight games in the first 17 days of the season. As a result, Arkansas has more game days — 8 — than practice days — 7 — in the early schedule. By the last game before the final exam break — Texas Southern — Arkansas played 10 games in 25 days.

FOUR ROAD TRIPS, THREE PRESS ROWS: Brittney Vaughn has a habit of crashing into the press tables on the road. Her skill at managing the tables is improving. At Hawai’i, she deftly leapt on top of the scorer’s table at the Stan Sheriff Center after intercepting a Wahine pass and successfully passing her steal upcourt to a teammate for a breakaway layup. At Austin Peay, Vaughn barreled through without effect. She tumbled over the table for a slight concussion hitting the bleacher steps on the other side at Clemson.

DEFINITELY A WARRIOR: Lauren Ervin proved her mettle at the Rainbow Wahine Classic by batting the pain of a compound dislocation of her left pinkie finger. One day after the practice accident, she lead all rebounders with nine against Denver and scoring 12 points for Arkansas in only 20 minutes played. The next day, Ervin pulled down another 11 rebounds with six points in 30 minutes versus Hawai’i. Against UNC, she 15 points on 7-of-11 from the field and eight rebounds. Proving that playing with a tape and brace job that resembled half a catcher’s mitt wasn’t a problem, the 6-3 junior post had four assists and four steals in the three games of the tournament. The injury was on her non-shooting hand, and that was evident with 56% from the field for the tournament.