No pouts, doubts for UA’s Watkins

By: MARTY COOK SPECIAL TO THE DEMOCRAT-GAZETTE
Published: Friday, November 9, 2012
Arkansas center Sarah Watkins, a second-team preseason All-SEC selection, has been working on the mental side of her game in the offseason. “When I do something wrong, I’m really just trying to let it go,” she said. “It has been difficult for me in the past, but I think I’m getting better.”
Photo by Spencer Tirey
Arkansas center Sarah Watkins, a second-team preseason All-SEC selection, has been working on the mental side of her game in the offseason. “When I do something wrong, I’m really just trying to let it go,” she said. “It has been difficult for me in the past, but I think I’m getting better.”

— The transformation of Arkansas center Sarah Watkins started this summer, but the results won’t really be known until the women’s basketball team gets into the season.

More to the point, it won’t be known until Watkins has one of those games where she misses a few easy shots in a row and commits an ill-advised foul or two.

How she reacts then, how she plays after those flubs, will show if Watkins is really a new woman this season.

“She knows she has to stay poised and control her emotions,” said Arkansas Coach Tom Collen, whose team opens the season against Jackson State at 11 a.m. today at Walton Arena. “She wants to be a great player and she wants to be the go-to player on this team. She can’t let one missed shot affect her.”

Broaching such a sensitive subject with Watkins could be awkward. Most players don’t exactly want to be asked if they are going to stop pouting when things go bad.

Watkins just smiles.

“It’s true,” Watkins said. “I’ve been trying really hard, not even getting frustrated in weights, not getting frustrated in pick-up games. When I do something wrong, I’m really just trying to let it go. It has been difficult for me in the past, but I think I’m getting better.”

The stakes for Watkins and Arkansas couldn’t be higher. She arrived at Arkansas with Collen predicting stardom for the 6-3 center from Germantown, Tenn., and this is the year she will have to prove she can carry a team.

“I expect her to have the best year she has ever had,” Collen said. “She has had three pretty solid years for us. There is a lot on her shoulders now.”

Watkins had a nagging back injury as a freshman but still averaged more than 20 minutes, 5.9 points and 3.9 rebounds per game. She started 34 games as a sophomore and 33 last year, and while she has had unmistakable flashes of brilliance, her overall play has been solid rather than spectacular.

“I don’t feel a lot of pressure right now, so everything is going great,” Watkins said.

Watkins averaged 13.5 points on 46.4 percent shooting and grabbed an average of 5.6 rebounds per game as a sophomore but regressed to 10.0 points on 35.3 percent shooting with 4.4 rebounds per game as a junior.

“I have to be a better rebounder,” Watkins said. “It was kind of a pathetic job last year by me on the boards.”

Watkins was a second-team preseason All-SEC selection this year and will have to play more of a showcase role for the Razorbacks. Last year, Arkansas could count on guards C’eira Ricketts and Lyndsay Harris for crunch-time scoring, and forward Ashley Daniels was the resolute grinder inside.

Now Watkins will have to take major chunks of both roles. Opposing coaches know it, too.

“She is their emotional leader, and they have to have her on the court,” Texas A&M Coach Gary Blair said. “She needs to stay out of foul trouble. I think she’s going to be huge with who they lost with Harris and Ricketts.”

Watkins’ summer transformation was slowed a bit by a broken wrist sustained in a pick-up game, but she was fully recovered by the start of official practices. Watkins doesn’t totally buy into the idea she is the Razorbacks’ star, but she clearly understands her roles as leader and best inside player.

“It’s intimidating a little bit,” Watkins said of being the focus of opponents this year. “I can handle it. My teammates will help me in areas I need help in.”

Her teammates have noticed the new and improved Watkins in practices already.

“I’ve seen a lot of growing in Sarah,” forward Quistelle Williams said. “Like Coach said, she would lose her head a lot. Now she is more levelheaded.

“It’s a complete 180, to be honest.”

Sarah Watkins glance

COLLEGE Arkansas POSITION Center CLASS Senior HEIGHT 6-3 HOMETOWN Germantown, Tenn. HIGH SCHOOL Houston NOTEWORTHY A second-team preseason All-SEC selection by members of the media in 2011 and this season. ... Averaged 10 points and 4.4 rebounds per game as a junior. ... Second-team All-SEC selection by the coaches as a junior. ... Has 161 career blocks, third in Arkansas history. ... Broke her left wrist playing in a pickup game this summer but has fully recovered.

Sports, Pages 25 on 11/09/2012

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