Non-conference slate annouced for women
FAYETTEVILLE — Two high profile tournaments and one of the most challenging road slates in recent years highlight the non-conference schedule for the University of Arkansas women’s basketball team.Featuring a new home-and-home series that starts at Oklahoma and a loaded field at the eight-team Duel in the Desert, Razorback women’s basketball head coach Tom Collen agrees, and says there is a clear reason why.“This is one of the most difficult non-conference schedules in school history,” Collen said. “As we work to build this program back to a top 25 level, we must continue to challenge our players in the preseason and better improve them for the challenge of the SEC.”In Collen’s second year at Arkansas, the Razorbacks made significant improvement, making the post-season for the first time in five years with the Sweet 16 round of the WNIT, but more important, moving up the league standings.“Last season, we improved from 2-12 to 6-8, and I believe that can be traced to better competition,” Collen said.While breaking the school record for consecutive SEC regular season wins with five straight in February, Collen tests his team with back-to-back games away from Fayetteville before the home opener on Nov. 22 against NCAA tournament team East Tennessee State.Arkansas opens the regular season at The Summit in Hot Springs, Ark., on Nov. 15 with Alcorn State, returning to central Arkansas for the first time in two seasons. The Razorbacks head into Texas to play Southern Methodist on Nov. 18.After ETSU, the Razorbacks are on the road to the Caribbean Challenge in Cancun, Mexico, on Nov. 26-27. Arkansas faces Iona on Thanksgiving Day before playing Western Kentucky on Friday in the preset classic format.Back to back Big 12 opponents await Arkansas upon its return to the states in the first week of December. Kansas State completes a home-and-home package at Walton Arena on Dec. 2. The Razorbacks play Oklahoma at Norman for the first time since 1999 when Arkansas beat the Sooners, 99-93, in the second round of the WNIT.“This is a tough start to the season,” Collen said. “We get another chance at the 2008 Big 12 champion in Kansas State, then starting up the series with a Final Four team like Oklahoma.”The Sooners had the nation’s No. 2 RPI last year, reaching the national semifinals before Collen’s previous team, Louisville, knocked OU out of the tournament.The Razorbacks host Coppin State before the 2009 fall semester final exam break, then depart on the longest road trip of the year.Arkansas returns a game to Big 10 member Northwestern on Dec. 17, then heads directly from the Chicago area to Las Vegas for the Duel in the Desert.The Razorbacks open with Chicagoland’s DePaul on Dec. 19, and are paired with the outcome of the Florida State-UTSA game in the tournament’s second round. Host UNLV along with Virginia Commonwealth, Kansas State and Hawai’i are in the other half of the bracket.“We travel to two tough, premier tournaments,” Collen said. “Opening in Cancun with Western Kentucky then we get a top 25 team like DePaul in Vegas. We have a potential match-up in the second round with another NCAA team in Florida State, and VCU and Kansas State in the other side — both of them were NCAA teams.”Arkansas breaks for the holidays before playing its final game prior to the start of the new 16-team SEC women’s schedule on Dec. 29 by hosting Sam Houston State.The league’s new double-rotating 16-game slate is expected to be finalized later this week or early next week.Arkansas, 18-14 last season, returns the SEC’s Sixth Player of the Year in senior guard Charity Ford along with Co-Freshman of the Year and FIBA U19 World Championship gold medalist C’eira Ricketts and SEC All-Freshman Team member Lyndsay Harris.Tickets for the 2009-10 season will be on sale later this fall.