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 get it done with defense
Arkansas coach Tom Collen watches his team during the first half of a Tuesday, Nov. 19, 2013 game against Middle Tennessee at Bud Walton Arena in Fayetteville.
FAYETTEVILLE - Breaking 50 points has been tough against Arkansas’ women’s basketball team this season.
The Razorbacks (12-0) rank No. 1 nationally in scoring defense, holding opponents to an average of 43.8 points. Connecticut, ranked No. 1 in The Associated Press and USA Today polls, is second at 48.6 points.
Arkansas has allowed more than 50 points just four times with a high of 53 in victories at Kansas (64-53) and at home against Northwestern (La.) State (74-53) and Tennessee Tech (79-53).
Razorbacks Coach Tom Collen said his assistant coach - and wife - Nicki deserves much of the credit for the team’s success on defense.
“She’s my defensive coordinator,” Collen said. “She’s been pretty frustrated with these young kids at times, and she’s gotten on them pretty hard. But I think she’s learned to embrace what their potential is and she’s pushing them pretty well, and they’re starting to take her coaching better. So I think a lot of credit goes there.”
Collen said his coaching philosophy always has put a strong emphasis on defense, but he has been pleasantly surprised how the Razorbacks have performed with three freshmen - forward Jessica Jackson and guards McKenzie Adams and Kelsey Brooks - among their top six players.
Jackson and Adams have started every game along with junior point guard Calli Berna, senior forward Keira Peak and junior forward Jhasmin Bowen.
Collen said the returning players have done a good job of understanding the significance of scouting reports and passing that along to the freshmen.
“The fact we’re No. 1 [in scoring defense] with so many young kids and knowing that we’ve still got a lot of improving to do, I think it’s a positive sign,” Collen said. “I think it makes it a lot easier for us to coach these kids and explain the significance of it when they can see that they’re actually ranked No. 1 and in the top 10 of a lot of those categories.
“It’s something they can latch on to and identify with.”
Collen said Bowen has developed into a solid post defender and Peak puts a lot of pressure on the ball, but that Berna is the team’s best player on defense.
“Calli’s the best communicator, she plays her gap, she plays her assignment,” Collen said. “More times than not she’s guarding two or threeplayers on the possession.
“That’s hard, maybe, to envision, but she always sees what somebody else’s offensive player is getting ready to do and she’s there before they know what they’re ready to do.”
Collen said Berna can cover up a lot of mistakes made on defense, especially by the freshmen.
“She’s the one kid defensively that’s indispensable for us,” he said.
Arkansas, which wraps up nonconference play against Mississippi Valley State (1-8) at 2 p.m. Saturday in Walton Arena, has yet to play a ranked opponent.
That will change when the Razorbacks start playing SEC games. They have six games against SEC teams ranked in the latest AP poll, including their conference opener against No. 13 South Carolina in Fayetteville on Jan. 2.
“I think it’s going to be hard to maintain that,” Collen said of Arkansas’ national lead in scoring defense. “But I’d rather go into it with that base of having played pretty good defense and having gotten the freshmen’s attention than not having it.”For the defense
Arkansas’ women’s basketball team is leading the nation in scoring defense, holding opponents to an average of 43.8 points. The Razorbacks haven’t allowed more than 53 points in any of their 12 games. Here is a rundown of the top five teams nationally in scoring defense. TEAM POINTS Arkansas 43.8 Connecticut 48.6 South Carolina 49.0 Georgia 49.5 Oklahoma State 56.0
Up next ARKANSAS WOMEN VS.
MISSISSIPPI VALLEY STATE WHEN 2 p.m. Saturday WHERE Walton Arena, Fayetteville RADIO KQSM-FM, 92.1, in Fayetteville; KABZ-FM, 103.7, in Little Rock; KFPW-AM, 1230, and KFPW-FM, 94.5, in Fort Smith and KURM-AM, 790, in Rogers.
Sports, Pages 17 on 12/27/2013