COLLEGE WOMEN:

Riled Watkins lifts UA women

By: MARTY COOK SPECIAL TO THE DEMOCRAT-GAZETTE
Published: Saturday, December 29, 2012
Arkansas forward Sarah Watkins drives to the hoop between Coppin State defenders (left to right) LArrisa Carter, Kyra Coleman, Amber Grifin and Shawntae Payne during the first half of Friday night's game at Bud Walton Arena in Fayetteville.
Photo by Michael Woods
Arkansas forward Sarah Watkins drives to the hoop between Coppin State defenders (left to right) LArrisa Carter, Kyra Coleman, Amber Grifin and Shawntae Payne during the first half of Friday night's game at Bud Walton Arena in Fayetteville.

— Arkansas Coach Tom Collen said he is never surprised when he sees a team play a bit lethargic after the Christmas break.

He doesn’t like it and doesn’t want to see it, but it happens.

It happened to Arkansas’ women’s team, which had to overcome its own uneven play and Coppin State to take a 71-57 victory in front of 880 fans Friday night at Walton Arena.

The game was much closer than the score suggested. The No. 25 Razorbacks (12-1) trailed for most of the first half and had to pull away again in the second half against the Eagles (4-8).

“It was ugly, but we got the win,” said senior forward Quistelle Williams, who had 10 points and 11 rebounds.

The victory was enough for Arkansas in its last game before SEC play begins Thursday at Auburn. Collen could take some solace in the fact that Auburn plays a similar aggressive style to the Eagles.

“It was hard work, harder work than the last three games,” said Collen, whose team had soundly beaten three nonconference cupcakes by an average of 43 points a game. “It really pushed us. After all is said and done, maybe this is a good thing for us. As a coach, it was hard to watch.”

The Razorbacks rallied from a five-point deficit in the first half behind 6-3 senior center Sarah Watkins, who finished with 22 points, 10 rebounds and 5 blocks. Watkins is the team’s best player but has shown inconsistent intensity during her first three years at Arkansas.

At several points in Friday’s game, Watkins had physical entanglements with Coppin State players on rebounds and loose balls. In the past, a little anger might turn off Watkins’ focus, but she maintained her cool Friday and fueled Arkansas’ victory.

“They came out ready to play,” Watkins said. “They’re not a bad team. They got after us pretty good. We did what we had to do.”

Watkins’ standout play was something Collen did like to see.

“She needs to get riled up,” Collen said. “She needs to get tougher. Sometimes she plays too soft. She wasn’t worried about the clawing and scratching going on.

“In the SEC, you’re going to get more than clawed and scratched.”

The Razorbacks needed Watkins and Williams to deliver because they had no outside game to speak off. Arkansas was 1 of 13 on three-point attempts in the first half and made just 2 of 16 in the game.

That forced Arkansas to rededicate itself to scoring inside. When the Razorbacks handled the Eagles’ pressure and went inside, Arkansas looked like the much better team.

“We stopped shooting threes,” Collen said. “The talk at halftime was we had to play inside-out. We weren’t nearly as quick-triggered.”

Arkansas’ debut as a ranked team did not begin well. The Razorbacks scored the game’s first six points but any thoughts of dominating from the get-go were quickly squashed by the energetic Eagles.

Coppin State, playing fast and attacking the boards, made the Razorbacks look flat-footed and sluggish for most of the first half. The Eagles took a 10-9 lead on Leola Spotwood’s basket with 14:27 left in the half.

Arkansas retook the lead immediately, but the Eagles went ahead 13-11 on Shawntae Payne’s three-pointer. Coppin State then increased its lead to 21-16 with 7:46 left.

The Razorbacks finally stirred to life, scoring the next 16 points. Perhaps the biggest play - one that showed Arkansas realized it was in a game - was when freshman Melissa Wolff grabbed a rebound in traffic and, as she fell over on her back, shoveled the ball to Erin Gatling.

Gatling fired a pass to a streaking Keira Peak, who made the layup for a 24-21 lead. Coppin State scored just one basket, with 23 seconds left, in the last 7:46 and limped into halftime trailing 32-23.

“We were upbeat at halftime,” Coppin State Coach Derek Brown said. “We were stopping ourselves. We knew we could get back into the game.”

The Eagles did just that, fighting back to within 50-48 with 6:11 left in the game. Arkansas scored the next eight points to seal the game, with Watkins and Dominique Wilson scoring all of their team’s points.

ILLINOIS 70, NO. 6 GEORGIA 59

CHAMPAIGN, Ill. - Karisma Penn had 27 points and 19 rebounds, and Illinois sent No. 6 Georgia to its first loss of the season.

Penn scored 13 points to help the Illini (7-5) jump out to a 31-13 lead. She also had 11 points during a game-changing 13-5 run that gave Illinois a 65-57 advantage after Georgia (12-1) had tied it at 52-52.

NO. 7 KENTUCKY 90, ALCORN ST. 23

LEXINGTON, Ky. - Samarie Walker had 21 points and 14 rebounds, and No. 7 Kentucky allowed its fewest points in school history.

The Wildcats (11-1) led 44-11 at halftime, holding Alcorn State without a basket for the final 16 minutes of the first half. The Braves (0-9) went a total of 19 minutes and 26 seconds between field goals, a span that carried over into the second half.

The Braves pulled within three with 15:04 left in the first half - the score was 8-5 - but Kentucky then ran off 17 consecutive points.

The previous school record for points allowed in a game was 25, most recently accomplished on Nov. 15, 2011, against Jacksonville State.

NO. 13 TENNESSEE 75, DAVIDSON 40

KNOXVILLE, Tenn. - Bashaara Graves and Cierra Burdick helped No. 13 Tennessee trounce Davidson to avoid its first three-game losing streak since 1986.

Tennessee (8-3) had fallen 76-53 at No. 3 Baylor and 73-60 to No. 1 Stanford in its last two games.

NO. 24 TEXAS A&M 74, PRAIRIE VIEW A&M 52

COLLEGE STATION, Texas - Kelsey Bone had 18 points and nine rebounds and No. 24 Texas A&M defeated Prairie View A&M

Kristi Bellock scored 14 points and Courtney Walker and Karla Gilbert scored 11 each for the winners.

Sports, Pages 19 on 12/29/2012

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