Collen pushes right buttons for UA
NWA Media/JASON IVESTER -- Arkansas senior Sarah Watkins works around LSU junior Theresa Plaisance during the first half on Thursday, Jan. 10, 2013, at Bud Walton Arena in Fayetteville.
FAYETTEVILLE A hunch and a little bit of optimism can go a long way.
Tom Collen proved that.
Arkansas’ women’s basketball coach followed his intuition and started senior guard Erin Gatling against LSU on Thursday night at Walton Arena, then preached optimism to his players when it looked like things were going bad midway through the second half.
Both moves paid off as Arkansas held off the stubborn Tigers 63-54 in front of 1,119 fans.
Senior Erin Gatling scored a career-high 14 points in her first start
Quistelle Williams had 13 points and 12 rebounds
Arkansas is 13-3 overall, 1-2 in SEC play
The game couldn’t have started better for Arkansas (13-3, 1-2 SEC). The Razorbacks bolted from the opening tip, scoring on Gatling’s three-pointer on their opening possession.
It was Gatling’s first career start at Arkansas after transferring from Southern Mississippi, and she went on to score a career-high 14 points, which included making three of four three-pointers.
“It was a hunch,” Collen said. “She made me look good.”
Gatling’s second three pointer in the first six minutes and Quistelle Williams’ three-point play gave Arkansas a 14-0 lead with 13:11 left in the first half, but LSU (10-6, 1-2) didn’t roll over. Instead, the Tigers turned to their inside game, led by 6-5 junior center Theresa Plaisance.
Plaisance’s dominance inside - she finished with a game-high 22 points - helped the Tigers trim the lead to 20-18 before Arkansas made three consecutive three-pointers to take a 29-20 lead. The Razorbacks led 31-25 at halftime, but the Tigers continued to pound the ball inside in the second half.
The strategy worked, especially when coupled with Arkansas’ sudden inability to make the simplest of shots. The Razorbacks went through a stretch where they missed 7 of 9 layup or put back attempts, and that helped LSU take its first lead at 42-39 with 11:34 left in the game.
Panic could have set in for the Razorbacks. They could ill afford to start 0-3 in conference, or lose a home game they once led by 14 points, but Collen wasn’t going to let that happen. He settled his team down by staying positive, telling Williams that she was going to get the ball and take the shot.
Williams’ three-point play tied the game at 44, her put back tied it at 48, her short jumper gave Arkansas a 50-48 lead, and the Razorbacks led the rest of the way.
“I wish I could tell you it was some coaching genius,” Collen said. “If that’s coaching genius, that’s me.”
Sports, Pages 22 on 01/11/2013