Bob Holt is a reporter for the Arkansas Democrat-Gazette. A graduate of the University of Missouri, he is a member of the Football Writers Association of America, and voter for the Heisman Trophy, Biletnikoff Award and AP Top 25 basketball poll. Holt was awarded Arkansas Sportswriter of the Year in 2000 and 2015.
UA women bolstered by ranking
Arkansas senior post Sarah Watkins, center, takes a shot in the lane as Texas Southern junior center Crystal Anyiam defends during the first half of play Thursday, Nov. 29, 2012, in Bud Walton Arena.
FAYETTEVILLE Arkansas’ women’s basketball team will play with a national ranking attached to its name for the first time in two years when the Razorbacks (11-1) take on Coppin State (4-7) at 7 tonight in Walton Arena.
The Razorbacks cracked The Associated Press poll at No. 25 this week. It’s their first ranking since the final week of January 2011.
“I’m not sure what it means at this point,” Arkansas Coach Tom Collen said. “I think it probably substantiates the fact that I felt like this team was pretty good all along and they deserved a little more recognition.”
Arkansas lost three of its top four scorers from last season’s 24-9 team that reached the second round of the NCAA Tournament — Ceirra Ricketts, Ashley Daniels and Lyndsay Harris — and was picked to finish ninth in the SEC in a preseason media poll.
“We put a pretty good foundation under this program two years ago winning 22 games and last year winning 24 and advancing to the second round,” Collen said. “Honestly, I felt like this team and this program deserved to be in the preseason Top 25, and probably if we’d opened 25th we’d be all the way up to 12th or 13 right now the way the polls work.
“I think it’s significant for what we’ve done the last three years, but we’ve still got a lot to do to accomplish the things we want and get back to the NCAA Tournament and continue to win in postseason play.”
Seven players have led the Razorbacks in scoring this season. Ten players have scored at least 11 points in a game.
“The good thing about this team is on a given night there are seven or eight kids that might get hot and score 15 points, give you something that you don’t necessarily ask from them,” Collen said. “I think that’s this team’s greatest strength, is we can turn to a lot of different people and hopefully find a way to pull out games when they’re tight.”
Junior forward Keira Peak is averaging team highs of 13.8 points and 7.0 rebounds; sophomore point guard Calli Berna is averaging 8.7 points and 5.6 assists; senior forward Sarah Wakins is averaging 12.8 points and 4.5 rebounds; senior forward Quistelle Williams is averaging 10.3 points and 6.3 rebounds, and sophomore forward Jhasmin Bowen is averaging 8.8 points and 5.5 rebounds.
The Razorbacks, who have won eight consecutive games, resumed practice Wednesday night after being off for four days. Because of weather-related travel problems, there were only seven players when practice started. Nine players were there by midway through practice, and the full roster was back for Thursday’s practice.
Collin said it was obvious during Wednesday night’s practice the Razorbacks had lost some sharpness and conditioning.
“As a coach, you ask these players to go home and try and stay in shape and get into the gym, but you just don’t know whether they’re going to accomplish that or not on their own, especially during the holidays with their family at Christmas,” he said. “We worked mainly on our conditioning, on shooting the ball, just knocking the rust off.”
Arkansas never was ranked last season despite finishing 10-6 in SEC play and going 4-3 against nationally ranked teams, including the program’s first victory at Tennessee.
“I was a little bit shocked we didn’t get ranked last year, but you’ve got to earn your way into the polls,” Collen said. “I think we graduated a great class last year, so people probably felt like we were in a little bit of a rebuilding mode, but we’ve stepped back up and shown the program was on pretty solid ground.
“We’ve just got to go out now and win games in the SEC and prove it all over again to everybody.”
Coppin State is Arkansas’ final nonconference game before SEC play starts. The Razorbacks play at Auburn on Jan 3, then have their SEC home opener against Texas A&M on Jan. 6.
“You get into the Top 25 and you head into the SEC, and sometimes going .500 in the SEC is pretty good,” Collen said. “So you probably won’t stay [ranked] very long if you do that, but I think right now for this team’s momentum and confidence level, it makes them feel pretty good they’ve moved into the poll.”
Sports, Pages 15 on 12/28/2012