Women head to Athens to face Lady Bulldogs

ABOUT THE RAZORBACKS: Arkansas begins its 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. Brereton was the team’s top scorer in Southeastern Conference games last season, and Jones was the top rebounder versus the SEC. Newcomers like freshmen guards Ceira Ricketts and Lyndsay Harris have brought a new scoring power for the Razorbacks from the perimeter.BOTH TEAMS STRUGGLE ON THURSDAY: Arkansas managed only 53 points and a 21-point second half on the road at LSU while Georgia put up only 43 points and a 19-point second half at Tennessee.BATTLE FOR SEEDING BEGINS: Teams now have ranges they can work in as the final three weeks of the SEC season approaches. Georgia remains in play for a first-day bye in North Little Rock, but the Lady Bulldogs’ path begins with beating Arkansas. The Razorbacks are mathematically locked in to playing on Thursday, but can avoid the night-time slots with wins down the stretch.YOU THINK ARKANSAS’ ROSTER IS SHORT: Georgia played seven in its last game at Tennessee. The roster for the Lady Bulldogs is only 10 players.HOUTS MAKES RUN AT CHRISTY SMITH: Georgia point guard Ashley Houts went 40 minutes at Tennessee on Thursday, but that’s nothing out of the ordinary for the junior guard. She has played almost every minute this year in league play for the Lady Bulldogs — missing a mere 67.6 seconds so far. She becomes the first SEC player to challenge Christy Smith’s iron woman mark of playing every minute of every SEC game her freshman season — a total of 445 minutes. For the year, Houts averages 36.8 minutes per game.ALL-UP WEEK: Both Thursday and Sunday were six-game dates in the league schedule. Miss State’s upset of Vanderbilt wounded the Commodore’s chance for the league title, putting them a game back of the leaders, Auburn and Florida.SUNDAY, SUNDAY, SUNDAY: The regular season title race gets clearer with Florida hosting Tennessee. If the Gators get the win, they will stay on one-loss pace with Auburn. The Tigers then have the title in their hands with tie-breaker advantage over Florida. A Florida loss would open up a game advantage for Auburn.GET OUT YOUR TIEBREAKERS: The league title could go coin-flip if this gets much more pear-shaped.IF THE TOURNAMENT WERE PLAYED TODAY: Arkansas would be the 10-seed playing Miss State as the seven-seed at 2:30 on Thursday. The winner would take on second-seed Florida at 2:30 on Friday. While Arkansas and South Carolina are tied in 10th, we give the seed nod today to UA based on the second tiebreaker (start at the top of the standings, how did each team perform).IT ALL SHAKES OUT FOR ARKANSAS IN THE NEXT TWO WEEKS: The Razorbacks play all three teams in their neighborhood of the SEC standings, starting next Thursday with co-10th place South Carolina. Arkansas hosts ninth-place Ole Miss on Sunday, then after a quick trip to Florida plays 12th place Alabama.ONE MARGIN YOU WANT: Arkansas outrebounded LSU, 34-30, continuing a trend that started with the started during conference games. The Razorbacks are +2.7 rebounds per game against league opponents, with Auburn having the largest margin (-7). Arkansas has outrebounded three of the last four opponents, and played very close to even with several taller teams (notably Tennessee, just -4).NOT THE MARGIN YOU WANT: Since SEC play started, Arkansas is averaging a -5 turnover margin. The Razorbacks have been negative against every SEC opponent, including -1 at Miss State for UA’s one league win to date. None of Arkansas’ SEC foes have given up more than 15 turnovers this season, with LSU turning in an opponent season low to date of only seven.HOT THEN NOT: Arkansas gave LSU a 9-0 run to open the game, but roared back behind Ceira Ricketts and Charity Ford to take the lead over the Lady Tigers near the final media time out of the first half. A 6-0 run by LSU allowed the Tigers to take the halftime lead, but the key was the early second half. LSU shut down Ricketts — nine first half points, only two in the second and that coming with less than four minutes left in the game.SAME SONG, SECOND VERSE: LSU beat Arkansas in a fashion very similar to the first meeting — a pair of runs in the second half. The Tigers used a 7-0 run to set the stage for a defensive stand. LSU held the Razorbacks to only four points while maintaining a double-digit lead, then an 8-2 run over three-and-a-half minutes sealed the game. LSU led by 16, 63-47, to coast in to victory by 15.McCRAY BRINGIN’ IT IN CONFERENCE: Junior college transfer Ashley McCray is averaging only 4.8 ppg and 3.7 rpg for the season. She’s played in 21 of Arkansas’ 23 games (missing one for a death in the family) and starting five times. She’s become a starter in Tom Collen’s big lineup when the Razorback coach wants more size from the opening tip. Her numbers are deceptive, as McCray has turned it up in SEC games to average 7.8 ppg and 4.8 rpg.JONES PULLIN’ LEAGUE BOARDS: Whitney Jones has a similar SEC only story. While the senior’s scoring has dropped below double-digits for the year at 9.6 ppg and 8.5 ppg for SEC games, her rebounding is on another level against the big posts of the SEC — going from 7.7 rpg for the full season to 9.0 against league opponents.TREY FADE: Arkansas has seen its three-point shooting drop from 30.6% for the season to 28.1% against SEC teams. Equally problematic is a rise in opponent numbers — from 34.0% full season to 42.2% by SEC opponents.SERIES: The Lady Dogs lead the series 21-3, but in the 21st century, the series has been much closer. While Georgia has won the last four meetings between the teams, the series is 7-2 since 2000. Both of Arkansas wins, however, came in Fayetteville.WELCOME TO NEVERLAND: There are only two places where Arkansas has never won a SEC game — Knoxville and Athens. Of those two remaining spots, Arkansas has a win at Georgia, but it was when the Razorbacks were members of the Southwest Conference. Arkansas stunned second-seeded Georgia in the second round of the 1990 NCAA Tournament to advance to the Stanford-hosted West Regional.TOP FROSH: It seems that 2009 is the year of the freshman in the SEC with huge recruiting classes playing significant roles at several schools. Of all the freshman, Arkansas’ Ceira Ricketts has established herself as the statistical leader of a talented class.OVERALL — ALL GAMESPOINTS SCORED: 314 points (#1 Freshman, Tied 5th Overall)SCORING AVG: 13.7 ppg (#2 Freshman, 7th)REBOUNDS: 6.4 rpg (#2 Freshman, 12th)FG %: .459 (#1 Freshman-5th)FT%: .728 (#2 Freshman-9th)ASSISTS: 3.6 apg (#1 Freshman-9th)STEALS: 2.8 spg (#1 Freshman-1st)ASST-TO RATIO: 1.4 (#1 Freshman-6th)DEF. BOARDS: 4.4 (#1 Freshman-8th)MINS. PLAYED: 30.7 (#2 Freshman-10th)SEC GAMES ONLYPOINTS: 13.6 ppg (t#1 Freshman, t8th)REBOUNDS: 6.0 rpg (#2 Freshman, t13th)ASSISTS: 4.8 apg (#1 Freshman, 6th)STEALS: 2.3 spg (#1 Freshman, 4th)ASST-TO RATIO: 1.4 (#1 Freshman, MINS. PLAYED: 34.2 (#1 Freshman, t6th)DEF. BOARDS: 4.4 (#1 Freshman, 9th)FG%: .406 (#1 Freshman, 9th)BEWARE THE DEAD ZONE: 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 one win in January had no Dead Zone — a 9-4 UA advantage in the time slot at Miss State. 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.PASTRY PROBLEMS: The Razorbacks are 1-9 when they force less than 15 turnovers from opponents, and a similar 1-9 when they commit more turnovers than the opponent.SALUTE TO SWEAT HAWGS DELAYED: With the ice storms, wide-spread power outages and elementary schools out for almost all of this week, the special Sweat Hawgs promotion originally set for Sunday’s Florida game is rescheduled for the Alabama game on Feb. 22. All vouchers issued for the Florida game will be honored on Feb. 22, and the originally scheduled Sweat Hawg halftime will take place that day.FORD GAME-TO-GAME UNTIL MSU: Charity Ford missed the Auburn game, and was a game-time decision until Miss State. She came off the bench for a season-high at Kentucky. The junior guard had been out with a leg injury that she suffered during the holidays. She missed the Stetson game, back in the boot on her left leg. A new series of scans revealed an acute stress fracture, and she will be on the sidelines for a while. Originally, she missed the game with Missouri, and did not dress after her leg injury against Dartmouth. As dramatic as it appeared when Ford collided with a Dartmouth player and landed awkwardly on her left leg, the junior guard got a clean bill of health at the doctors. She returned to the court for Western Illinois, turning in 24 minutes. However, pain returned and MRIs were ordered, revealing the fracture.ONCE, TWICE, THREE TIMES FRESHMAN OF THE WEEK: Ceira Ricketts was named the SEC Freshman of the Week for the second consecutive week. The freshman from Louisville, Ky., averaged 18.5 ppg and 6.5 rpg for the past week, including a near double versus then No. 10 Tennessee with 22 points and nine rebounds, then 13 points as Arkansas’ top-scoring starter at Miss State for the Razorbacks first conference win of the year. The freshman also led all players in the game with six assists and three steals vs. UT. At Miss State, Ricketts had 13 points and four steals as the top scoring starter for the Razorbacks. Ricketts led the team in assists in Arkansas first win against a SEC opponent. The win at State broke a five-game losing streak dating back to the Jan. 3. For the week, Ricketts exceeded her season averages and SEC-game only averages with 18.5 ppg, 6.5 rpg, 4.5 and 3.5 spg. She becomes the first Razorback to win three SEC weekly honors in the same season.RICKETTS MAKES HISTORY: Freshman Ceira Ricketts became the first women’s basketball player in Arkansas history to record a triple double in a regular season game. We’ll make the caveat of known triple as the early year box scores are sketchy or nonexistent. Nevertheless, since modern NCAA era, only a handful of Razorbacks have come close. Most notable — Sally Moore was within an assist in 1990 against Oklahoma (18p/13r/9a) and Brittney Vaughn was within a rebound in 2006 against St. Louis (13p/9r/10a). Research continues to confirm, but the search of the likely suspects and old records Sunday evening turned up no evidence to not give the mark to the freshman.RICKETTS TIES ASSIST RECORDS: Ceira Ricketts’ 12 assists tied the Arkansas freshman class record for most assists in a game. Amy Wright held the mark with 12 against LSU in 1999. Ricketts also shares the UA mark for most assists in a regular season SEC game with Wright and Rochelle Vaughn, who had her 12 against Georgia in 2004. For the game, Ricketts had as many assists as #6 Auburn had as a team.AND, RICKETTS GETS FRESHMAN OF THE WEEK: In recognition of the above notations, freshman Ceira Ricketts was selected the SEC Freshman of the Week. It is her second FOTW honor (Nov. 26), and makes her the first repeat freshman honoree in Razorback history. Additionally, she’s only the third Arkansas player to pick up two “of the week” awards from the SEC for women’s basketball. Two seasons ago, Lauren Ervin had a pair of player of the weeks and Shameka Christon had one player of the week and a co-player back in 2004.RICKETTS BACK TO NO. 1: Freshman Ceira Ricketts leads the league with 2.8 steals per game. During non-conference play, Ricketts was the leader or No. 2 most of the early weeks. Her 48 total steals is also the most in the league. Nationally, Ricketts is 28th, up two spots from 30th last week.FIRST TIME — RICKETTS NAMED SEC FRESHMAN OF THE WEEK: After a week that saw her move from sub to starter to team’s leading scorer, Ceira Ricketts was named the SEC Freshman of the Week for Nov. 24. Ricketts had double digits in all three games for the week, notching then career highs in points (18, SMU), rebounds (9, Northwestern), assists (4, High Point) and steals (5, High Point). Ricketts was Arkansas leading scorer on average for the three-game run, and emerged as the team’s overall leading scorer with 13 ppg for the season. She averages 4 steals per game to start the season. Ricketts is the third Razorback named freshman of the week. The last time was Donica Cosby from Nov. 2006. Her teammate, Whitney Jones, was the first-ever SEC freshman of the week back in December 2005.FRESHMEN STARTERS: Lyndsay Harris got the nod to start against La-Monroe, making her the first freshman to start on opening day since Tanisha Smith in 2005 as the Razorbacks tipped off the year at Clemson.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.