Collen not fazed by 0-2 SEC start

By: Jeff Halpern
Published: Tuesday, January 8, 2013
“It’s a grind in the SEC,” Arkansas women’s Coach Tom Collen (right, shown with Texas A&M Coach Gary Blair) said Monday at the Downtown Tip-Off Club.
Photo by Michael Woods
“It’s a grind in the SEC,” Arkansas women’s Coach Tom Collen (right, shown with Texas A&M Coach Gary Blair) said Monday at the Downtown Tip-Off Club.

— A year ago, the Arkansas women’s basketball team opened the SEC season 0-4 before rallying to finish 10-6 in conference play and 24-9 overall, including a trip to the NCAA Tournament.

If the Razorbacks are going to duplicate that success, another rally is going to be required after starting 0-2 in SEC play after Sunday’s 63-51 loss to then-No. 24 Texas A&M, coached by former Razorbacks Coach Gary Blair.

“It’s a grind in the SEC,” Arkansas women’s Coach Tom Collen said Monday at the Downtown Tip-Off Club. “We tell our kids every day that in order to be great, you’re going to get knocked down, but it’s important you find a way to get back up because how you respond to getting knocked down tells a lot about where you’re going to be.

“Last year, we started 0-4 and then we got a win, another win and another and then we started piling them up and it got to be a lot of fun.”

How much fun? Arkansas’ 10-6 SEC record was its best since joining the conference in the 1991-1992 season, making Collen the SEC Coach of the Year.

Arkansas’ SEC success lifted the Razorbacks to their first NCAA Tournament bid in nine years. Once there, they defeated Dayton 72-55 in the first round before losing to defending national champion Texas A&M in the second round.

Collen said time will tell whether this year’s team can come close to last season’s achievements, but he said he likes what he’s seen.

“Last year’s team was the best we’ve had since I’ve been here,” Collen said. “I don’t know if this year’s team is quite as talented, but this is one that’s easy to embrace because they all like each other and have compassion for one another.”

Arkansas was 11-1 when it climbed to No. 25 in the rankings two weeks ago, a record that included a Dec. 6 victory over then-No. 17 Kansas. Their only nonconference loss came to then-No. 13 Oklahoma, 73-70 in Hawaii on Nov. 23.

A 71-57 victory over Coppin State on Dec. 28 moved Arkansas to 12-1 and to No. 23in the polls.

Biut a 50-47 loss at Auburn on Thursday and Sunday’s loss to Texas A&M has the Razorbacks out of the top 25 and among others receiving votes.

“We know we have to play LSU [10-5, 1-1] Thursday and that’s going to be a battle, and then we have to go to Vanderbilt [12-3, 2-0] and then host Georgia [No. 13, 13-2, 1-1]” Collen said. “It’s going to be a battle and we have to stay focused.”

Collen said he knows fan support is tied to winning. Sunday’s game against Texas A&M drew an announced crowd of 2,269 at Walton Arena. The Razorbacks are averaging 1,989 fans through nine home dates so far.

“What I’ve found is the best marketing you can do is winning,” Collen said. “When you get ranked, people get excited. I thought yesterday [Sunday], we had a good crowd and when we closed to within six, they were starting to go crazy and I told them afterwards I was appreciative of them. After the game, I grabbed the microphone and thanked them for their support. I also told them, there are going to be plenty of good teams rolling through here and we’re going to need their help.”

SUNDAY’S GAMES

Tennessee 79, Georgia 66 Florida 77, LSU 72 Texas A&M 63, Arkansas 51 Missouri 82, Auburn 76 Kentucky 87, Alabama 70 South Carolina 60, Mississippi State 46 Vanderbilt 76, Mississippi 57

THURSDAY’S GAMES

Texas A&M at Kentucky, 5 p.m.

Mississippi at Auburn, 6 p.m.

Vanderbilt at South Carolina, 6 p.m.

LSU at Arkansas, 7 p.m.

Missouri at Tennessee, 7 p.m.

Florida at Mississippi State, 7 p.m.

Georgia at Alabama, 8 p.m.

Sports, Pages 18 on 01/08/2013

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