Razorbacks face Iona Thursday

CANCUN, Mexico — The University of Arkansas women’s basketball team has a chance for two wins in the vacation paradise of Cancun, Mexico, this week.

Arkansas (2-1) traveled to the sun-filled resort of Moon Palace for the Caribbean Challenge where they face Iona and Western Kentucky Thursday and Friday.

“We’re down here to play basketball,” Arkansas head coach Tom Collen emphasized. “The competition is good but if we prepare well, I think we’ll be successful.”

The tournament is sponsored by Triple Crown Sports and is part of a larger men’s and women’s basketball blitz in the area. More than a dozen men’s and women’s teams are on hand to take part.

Arkansas opens with Iona (2-2) Thursday in a noon tip. The Gaels have played just one road game and are led by Ann McLean with 15.0 ppg and 11.3 rpg. Thazina Cook averages 12.3 ppg rounding out their double-figure scorers. The Gaels are good from long distance with 31 threes this year.

This is the first meeting between these teams.

“I’m pretty happy with where we are right now,” Collen said. “Our schedule just keeps getting tougher and we have to be ready to go. Iona returns all five starters as does Western Kentucky and both could be NCAA Tournament teams again this year.”

Although Collen is aware of the strengths of his opponents, he also likes what he is seeing on his side of the ball. Three different players have stepped up to lead the Razorback offense in the opening games of the season. The Razorbacks are also changing philosophies and, while still utilizing the strengths of the guards, Arkansas is making an effort to improve its inside game as well.

“I like the way we’re playing right now,” Collen said. “We have a lot of different parts trying to come together. I’ve been impressed with the play of Dominique (Robinson) and Sarah (Watkins) so far. If we can get our veterans to step up and play more consistently, we could be a pretty good team.”

Collen is referring to a trio of veterans who earned All-Southeastern Conference honors last year. Senior Charity Ford and sophomores Lyndsay Harris and C’eira Ricketts were the heart of the team last year and while solid to start the season, Collen thinks they are capable of more.

“Yeah, it’s kind of a sophomore slump for our guards,” Collen said. “But we’ve made a concerted effort to get the ball inside and all three of them are working really hard at that. Last year, we just turned them loose and let them create and right now they are trying to adjust. I know they will rise up and play well and for us to be an NCAA-type team they will have to be great. It’s just a matter of them learning how to mesh with the new system and I’m confident they will.”

The Razorbacks face Western Kentucky Friday in a 4 p.m. contest. Western Kentucky enters the week 3-0 on the year with wins over Eastern Kentucky, Ball State and South Dakota State. WKU has three players averaging double digits paced by Amy McNear with 18.3 ppg. Courtney Clifton and Arnika Brown both average 12.7 ppg with Brown leading the team with 13.0 rpg this year. WKU also faces Vanderbilt from the SEC this season (Dec. 6).

The Razorbacks are 3-2 all-time against the Hilltoppers. Arkansas won all three meetings in Fayetteville but lost the most recent contest in the 2005-06 season, 73-87.