Jayhawks next in WNIT
ABOUT THE RAZORBACKS: Arkansas enters the postseason for the 18th time in the 33-year history of the program with the 2009 Women’s NIT. This is Arkansas’ 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. Newcomers like All-SEC Freshman team guards Ceira Ricketts and Lyndsay Harris have brought a new scoring power for the Razorbacks from the perimeter. The SEC Sixth Woman of the Year, junior guard Charity Ford, gives the Razorbacks depth. Arkansas has its third top SEC freshman in Co-Freshman of the Year and second-team All-SEC player Ricketts.ABOUT THE JAYHAWKS: Another Big 12 opponent guided by a powerful top scorer as Danielle McCray and the Jayhawks host Arkansas in the third round of the WNIT. McCray (20.5 ppg, 7.8 rpg) is the power anywhere star of Kansas. McCray leads the Jayhawks in points, rebounds, steals and blocked shots. The balance comes from Sade Morris with 12.3 ppg and a pair of guards running the show with LaChelda Jacobs (3.1 apg) and Ivana Catic (3.2 apg). Coach Bonnie Hendrickson leads the Jayhawks in her fifth season in Lawrence. KU tied for seventh in the Big 12 with Texas Tech and Nebraska, but was the eighth seed.ABOUT THE WNIT: Sponsored by Triple Crown Sports, the Women’s NIT began in 1998. The tournament has traditionally used home sites. Expanding three years ago to a 48-team field, the 31 automatic bid conferences each receive a team in the new field with 17 at-large teams rounding our the bracket. While there are 48 teams, the bracket is built on a 64-team, six-round draw which allows for 32 games in the opening round, with those 16 winners advancing to face the 16 bye teams in the second round.EASY OPENER FOR KU: After a early stumble, Kansas rolled past Creighton, 79-64, led by 25 points and 13 boards from Danielle McCray and 21 points from Sade Morris. Aishah Sutherland came off the bench for a double of 15 points and 12 rebounds. KU hit 62% in the second half and 54.1% overall for the game, pounding the ball inside on Creighton — 48 to 22 on points in the paint.A STRUGGLE FOR UA: The Razorbacks overcame one of their most dramatic offensive comas of the season — a single bucket in a 9:30 period in the first half — to defeat Oklahoma State in overtime, 61-60.MORE OF THE SAME: Oklahoma State brought the Big 12’s top scorer to Walton, and in spite of a slow start, Andrea Riley got just one bucket shy of her season average with 21 points. OSU head coach Kurt Budke left the Razorback media with two warm thoughts. Along with Riley, he sees KU’s Danielle McCray as the top pro prospects out of the Big 12 this season.MIGHT BE UNDERSTATEMENT: Danielle McCray has 20 or more in 19 of KU’s 32 games this season, and is clocking over 25 ppg in the last six games for KU.AND THAT OTHER THOUGHT: Kurt Budke reminded the media that before the WNIT started, in his mind, Kansas was the favorite to win it all.JAYHAWKS UP AND DOWN: Kansas won at Oklahoma State, part of a four-game win streak toward the end of the Big 12 regular season. Jayhawks closed with a split at the Big 12 — downed Nebraska, lost to Oklahoma.SLOW START, FAST FINISH: Kansas watched Creighton roar off to an 8-0 lead. The Jayhawks missed their first seven shots in the battle of the birds before Danielle McCray hit her first bucket of the game and launched a 22-8 run by KU to take command of the game.ONE COMMON FOE: Both teams played Western Illinois, and about the same time. Arkansas downed WIU 70-53 on Dec. 29 while Kansas beat the Westerwinds 66-43 on Dec. 10.INTO NO WOMAN’S LAND: Kansas is undefeated this season against non-conference opponents at Allen Fieldhouse, and 14-3 overall.SERIES IS INTERESTING: The series is tied, 2-2, but Arkansas has not won a home site game. The Razorbacks are 2-0 on neutral courts and the Jayhawks are 2-0 at home (once) and on the road (once).SHERMAN, SET THE WABAC MACHINE . . .: For the big-hair 1980s as Arkansas’ one and only visit to Lawrence, Kansas, was for the season-opening Lady Jayhawk Dial Classic. Arkansas downed Akron, 70-62, before losing the championship game to KU, 75-62. None of the current staff was present, although former assistant (now associate AD for compliance) Tracey Stehlik was there. This was before Amber Shirey began her playing career. Amber does have the distinction of playing against Kansas, losing in Fayetteville (one of only four regular season losses for the 1989-90 team.LAST MEETING WAS POSTSEASON: The two teams met in the Sweet 16 at the West Regional during that epic 1998 Final Four run. Interesting side note, current Arkansas associate head coach Timothy Eatman was an assistant at Kansas that game as was current Razorback director of basketball operations Amber Shirey for Arkansas.WHO WOULD HAVE THOUGHT?: Sure, the calendar helps, but Arkansas and Ole Miss are the only SEC teams left standing in the WNIT. In the NCAA tournament, only Vanderbilt is left. Those gone home: Tennessee, Georgia, Miss State, Auburn, LSU, Florida and Kentucky (WNIT). DON’T BRING THAT WEAK SHOT INTO MY LANE: Senior Whitney Jones established herself in the paint early against Oklahoma State, blocking to shots early and altering several others. The senior finished with five blocks, four steals — physical takeaways inside — and 11 rebounds. Her five blocks tied the team season high, a mark Jones set with Dartmouth.JONES SETS SCHOOL WNIT MARKS: Whitney Jones claims the Arkansas record in a WNIT game for blocked shots with her five against Oklahoma State, breaking three by Lakeshia Harper against Missouri. Jones tied the school mark for steals — 4 which Amy Wright set with Wichita State — and made free throws — 8 held by Sytia Messer against Oklahoma.WNIT TEAM MARKS: 16 steals breaks the previous of 13 against Missouri from 2000 and with six blocked shots ties the Missouri game. Arkansas also tied it’s scoring low with 61 points — irony, also a first game of the tournament win at home (61-48 over UNLV). The 26 three-pointers is an attempt high (OU, 2000) and the 30.1% is the worst field goal percentage (UNLV, 40.4%). FYI — that shooting percentage is actually an all-time post-season worst, “bettering” the 30.4% shot by Arkansas at the 1998 Final Four against Tennessee.DIFFERENCE FLIPPED: Heading into the game, Oklahoma State had a decided advantage with a +3.3 turnover margin to Arkansas’ -0.8. Instead, it was the Cowgirls who could not hold the ball, with a -10 turnover difference to the Razorbacks. More critically, OSU’s first four possessions of overtime ended in turnovers while Arkansas took a five-point lead.POST DEPTH HURT: Junior Ashley McCray left the game in the mid-first half with a knee injury against Oklahoma State. McCray was headed to the team physicians Tuesday and the MRI was negative for torn ligaments. A sprain and bone bruise will keep McCray hobbled and day-to-day, but doubtful, for the Kansas game.GAME DEPTH ALSO: Adding to Arkansas’ interior difficulty was the early foul-out of Ayana Brereton, exiting with 3:43 left in regulation.THIRD STRAIGHT DOUBLE: Whitney Jones continued to exert her strength inside with 22 points and 11 boards against Oklahoma State. Jones was one point off her career high, and hit 50% from the field. Jones scored the last five points of the game for the Razorbacks in overtime with two free throws, a clutch jumper and one more free throw.EIGHT OF NINE: Whitney Jones was 8-of-9 at the free throw line, her only miss coming with 16 seconds left in overtime and the score tied 60-60. Jones, never nervous at the line, said afterwards that she was thinking too much on the first shot, and calmly sank the game-winner to make the score 61-60.THERE’S A REASON WHY THEY WERE ALL-SEC: At the start of overtime, SEC Co-Freshman of the Year stripped the ball away from Taylor Hardeman, and fed SEC Sixth Player of the Year Charity Ford for the go-ahead jumper. SEC All-Freshman team member Lyndsay Harris picked All-Big 12 first-teamer Andrea Riley seconds later, only to lose the ball back to OSU. Ricketts remedied the error with another steal, and after being fouled, hit one of two to make it 56-53 in the opening minute of overtime.TALK ABOUT SURVIVAL: Here’s a toxic stat brew — only 30.1% from the field and just 61 points scored — Arkansas all season is a percentage loser in those.SEC — ALL IN: Every eligible team in the SEC is in the post season — another seven-team entry into the NCAA Tournament plus three into the WNIT. With 10 of its 12 members in the post season, every SEC team over .500 for the season advanced to the postseason.LONG TIME OFF: Arkansas last faced outside competition on March 5 at the SEC Tournament in North Little Rock. The last time the Razorbacks were in Walton Arena was a whole month ago, Feb. 22 with Alabama. It wasn’t the longest break by far. Arkansas had a 20-day gap between its final game in 1996 (ironically, a first round SEC loss to Ole Miss, 76-73) on March 1 and the first game of the NWIT in Amarillo on March 21. Arkansas won that game, 83-51. Arkansas had semester breaks, sometimes in excess of 30 days, in the pioneer years of the AIAW.ARKANSAS AND THE WNIT: This is the third appearance in the postseason WNIT. Arkansas’ record in the postseason event is 9-2, winning the 1999 WNIT title with five straight wins in the then 32-team field and reaching the WNIT semifinals in 2000. Arkansas returns to the post season for the first time since the 2005 Women’s NIT. The Razorbacks won their opening round game with UNLV before losing to Arkansas State on the road in 2005.OTHER INVITATIONAL TOURNAMENTS: Arkansas reached the finals of the 16-team preseason WNIT in 1997, losing to Colorado, 73-71, in the title game. The Razorbacks also have two appearances in the now defunct National Women’s Invitational Tournament. The eight-team tournament held in Amarillo, Texas, predates the current WNIT. Arkansas won the NWIT title in 1988 with a record-setting offensive effort in the three-game tournament. The Razorbacks were fourth pace at the 1996, and final, NWIT.POSTSEASON: This is the 18th postseason appearance in the 33-year history of the program, and the first since 2004-05.JAYHAWKS IN NIT’S: In the current WNIT format, Kansas is in it’s third appearance, and is 3-2. KU was 1-1 in its previous two trips. Kansas also has two NWIT visits.THE REASON YOU PLAY: Postgame experience is high on the list, and none of the current team members have ever played in the postseason. Seniors Ayana Brereton and Whitney Jones were signees the last time Arkansas was in the postseason.10TH ANNIVERSARY: This year marks the 10th anniversary of the epic 1999 WNIT run by the Razorbacks, culminating in a then WNIT record crowd of 14,143 that saw Arkansas defeat Wisconsin for the title.FORD, RICKETTS, HARRIS EARN SEC HONORS: Junior Charity Ford was voted the Sixth Woman of the Year, Ceira Ricketts the Co-Freshman of the Year and second-team All-Southeastern Conference and Ricketts and Lyndsay Harris are SEC All-Freshman as voted by the league coaches. CHARITY FORD, SIXTH WOMAN OF THE YEAR: Junior Charity Ford came off the bench the entire season for Arkansas after serving as a starter her first two years for the Razorbacks. Ford’s contribution off the bench was obvious in SEC play. Injured just after Christmas and unable to play the first games of league play, once Ford became effective the Razorbacks went on a 5-1 run to close the season. Averaging almost double-digits against SEC foes at 9.7 ppg, Ford was named the SEC Player of the Week for her role coming off the bench to guide Arkansas to its first win over a AP ranked team in five years at then 15th-ranked Florida. Ford had 19 points that night, and the week before had a career-high 21 at Georgia to lead Arkansas first-ever win against the Lady Bulldogs in Athens.CEIRA RICKETTS, CO-FRESHMAN OF THE YEAR: Leading the SEC in steals almost the entire season and earning a record-tying five SEC Freshman of the Week awards, Arkansas’ leading scorer at 12.7 ppg and 6.3 rpg. Ricketts became the first women’s basketball player at the University of Arkansas to have a triple double with her 14 points, 13 rebounds and 12 assists against Auburn. During the course of the season, Ricketts tied the UA record for most assists in a SEC game and the freshman record for assists with her 12 against Auburn. Ricketts added three more double-double games with points and rebounds against 12 points and 10 rebounds at Georgia and 11 points and 12 rebounds at then 15th-ranked Florida. Ricketts’ career high of 22 points came against Tennessee and Missouri. She led the SEC in steals, and was the top freshman in several categories, including scoring, for almost the entire year. Ricketts ranked top 10 in the nation for freshmen scoring.LYNDSAY HARRIS, ALL-FRESHMAN TEAM: Arkansas’ top three-point shooter and third leading scorer, Harris registered one of the team’s highest scoring games this season with 23 points against Oregon State. Hitting 52 three-pointers during the regular season, Harris turned in one of her best weeks two weeks ago as the Razorbacks swept Florida and Alabama. Early in the season, Harris was named to the Junkanoo Jam all-tournament team after her 23 points versus Oregon State.CEIRA RICKETTS, ALL-SEC SECOND TEAM: Also earning all-conference honors, Ricketts joins only Christy Smith at the University of Arkansas to earn all-conference selection as a freshman. Ricketts was voted by the league coaches onto the second team, equalling Smith’s pick as the Freshman of the Year and second-team All-SEC.ARKANSAS’ FRESHMAN OF THE YEAR HISTORY: Ceira Ricketts joins Christy Smith (1995) and Karyn Karlin (1997) as the SEC’s top freshman.ALL-FRESHMAN HISTORY: Lyndsay Harris and Ceira Ricketts become the second pair of teammates at Arkansas to earn all-freshman honors from the SEC. In 1996, Shaka Massey and Sytia Messer were both Freshman All-SEC. They are the first Razorback freshman on the team since Kristen Peoples in 2004. With Harris and Ricketts, a total of 10 players have earned Freshman All-SEC (Peoples, 2004; Ruby Vaden, 2003; Shameka Christon, 2001; Karlin, 1997; Massey & Messer, 1996; Smith, 1995; Kimberly Wilson, 1994).ALL-CONFERENCE HISTORY: Ricketts is Arkansas’ first All-SEC pick since Lauren Ervin was second-team All-SEC in 2007. All-time, Arkansas has had 14 All-SEC honors, three first-team and 11 second-team. The last first-teamer was Shameka Christon.FORD A FIRST: The Razorbacks receive their first-ever Sixth Player of the Year.THERE’S A COMMON THREAD HERE: All three of Arkansas’ Freshman of the Year honorees — all recruited to Arkansas by Tom Collen. As the recruiting coordinator for Gary Blair, Collen was instrumental in the signing of Christy Smith and Karyn Karlin. With Ceira Ricketts and Lyndsay Harris on the all-freshman team, Collen had a hand in the signing of over half of the players that have been on the SEC rookie team (6 — Smith, Shaka Massey, Sytia Messer, Karlin, Ricketts and Harris).A RECORD STREAK: Tom Collen did something no other Razorback women’s basketball coach has ever done – win five straight SEC regular season games — when Arkansas downed Alabama. The Razorbacks have tied the longest win streak for SEC regular season games with four this season. The 1995, 2000 and 2001 teams went for four. The 1995 team on the last four games of the regular season, then won the opening game of the 1995 SEC Tournament to claim five overall wins.WHEN THE DEAD ZONE MEETS THE CLUTCH: In the past three games, it is all about the clutch. Florida didn’t get a Dead Zone break, but cut Arkansas’ lead to one late in the game. The Gators fouled, but Arkansas made just enough in the final four minutes to take a double-digit win. Ole Miss and Arkansas stumbled through the Dead Zone with neither team gaining ground, but the Lady Rebels finally pulling back to within five after trailing at half. But when Arkansas hit the four-minute mark, it was all Razorback starting with Charity Ford’s clutch three. The Razorbacks went on an 11-2 close to the game with Ole Miss. In the previous game, Arkansas overcame its first Dead Zone slump with South Carolina. The Gamecocks used a 7-2 push to gain a five-point margin and held the lead during the entire dreaded space between the second and third media time outs. It was Arkansas down the stretch as the Razorbacks went 10-6 in the last four minutes to defeat Carolina.PRETTY MUCH THE SAME OFFENSIVE TEAM: This is no small achievement for a team the past four years that roared through non-conference then saw precipitous drops in offensive production in league games. For the year, Arkansas shoots 40.4% and in SEC games only, 40.2%. Arkansas is scoring 67.3 ppg full season and 64.9 ppg SEC season. Rebounding is also very close, 38.7 full season and 38.3 SEC games.BIG UP — REBOUNDS: Arkansas’ rebounding margin goes from just +0.7 for the full season to a +2.0 in the 14 SEC games.BIG DOWN — DEFENSE: While the offense has stepped up, the defense has struggled with SEC opponents hitting 41.4% against the Razorbacks compared to the full-season of 38.8%. Defensive scoring is the turnaround from a positive full season scoring margin of +3.4 to a SEC only -5.8. Opponents go from 64 ppg to 70.7 ppg.THESE HOGS SEE NO SHADOW: This February, the Razorbacks have thrown off the dark gloom of four more weeks without a win as 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. Arkansas then added its first home win since that same Alabama game of 2005. For the month of February, Arkansas goes 5-2 this season — one of the best groundhog months on record.LET’S EXPLAIN THIS, FOR THE LAST TIME: The SEC women’s teams do not play the divisional schedule as the men’s teams, and have a 14-game schedule that breaks down this way: once against the entire conference plus home-and-home with the rival/travel partner, home-and-home with a rotating Western Division member and home-and-home with a rotating Eastern Division team. For Arkansas, that means home-and-home with LSU (rival), Auburn (West rotator) and Florida (East rotator). Why the last time? The league voted to begin a 16-game schedule next season; however, the exact format is now being decided.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 games of 2009 without that opponent run? Miss State, Georgia, USC, Ole Miss and Florida — coincidence?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.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.2008-09 SIGNEES: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.