Gatling stepping into role

By: Bob Holt
Published: Sunday, January 27, 2013
NWA Media/MICHAEL WOODS --12/21/2012-- Arkansas' Erin Gatling tries to get the ball past Northwestern State defender Janelle Perez as she drives to the hoop in the first half of Friday night's game at Bud Walton Arena in Fayetteville.
Photo by Michael Woods
NWA Media/MICHAEL WOODS --12/21/2012-- Arkansas' Erin Gatling tries to get the ball past Northwestern State defender Janelle Perez as she drives to the hoop in the first half of Friday night's game at Bud Walton Arena in Fayetteville.

— Arkansas’ women’s basketball team may not need Erin Gatling to score a career high in every SEC victory this season, but that’s the way it’s worked so far.

Gatling, a 5-4 senior guard from Van Buren, scored a career-high 23 points off the bench and made 7 of 11 shots - including 6 of 10three-pointers - in the Razorbacks’ 58-50 victory at Missouri on Thursday night. That topped her previous high of 14 points in 23minutes when she started in a 63-54 victory over LSU.

Arkansas Coach Tom Collen said he isn’t sure if Gatling, averaging 4.9 points and 15.2 minutes per game, will start when the Razorbacks (14-5, 2-4) play No. 14 South Carolina (17-3, 5-2) at 2 p.m. today at Walton Arena.

“But based on what she’s done for us to this point, she’s going to get out there and play a lot of minutes,” Collen said.

Gatling has played fewer than 10 minutes in seven of her 18 games this season, and didn’t play at all in the SEC opener at Auburn, when the Razorbacks lost 50-47.

“Erin’s played amazingly well considering the minutes I’ve given her have been sporadic,” Collen said. “It’s a credit to her that she can play 20 minutes one game, and then not play hardly at all for two or three games, and then step on the floor and have the confidence she has, and still feel I have confidence in her.

“It’s pretty easy to sit on that bench when you don’t get to play and think the coach doesn’t believe in you anymore, and I think one of her greatest strengths is she believes in herself and she knows I believe in her.”

Gatling said this season has been “kind of an emotional roller coaster” with her minutes varying drastically from game to game.

“I’ve said this a thousand times,” Gatling said. “Being a Razorback is my dream, and it has been for a long time, and in 2 1/2 months - less than that now - my basketball career is over. So I really just want to take advantage of every opportunity I’m given, whether it’s for five minutes or for 36.

“I’m just really grateful to Coach for giving me that opportunity [at Missouri].”

Collen showed some recruiting interest in Gatling when she was a senior at Van Buren but didn’t offer her a scholarship. Gatling signed with Southern Mississippi, where she played in 56 games with 15 starts. She averaged 3.4 points and 3.3 assists in 21.4 minutes per game as a sophomore but decided to transfer.

“It wasn’t a good fit, and I was nine hours from home,” Gatling said. “I think it bothered my parents more than it bothered me because they couldn’t come watch me play.

“I think I just needed a change. It wasn’t what I thought it was going to be, and I think Arkansas is where I was meant to be.”

Gatling planned to transfer to an NCAA Division II school so she could have immediate eligibility. Then Collen called and offered her a scholarship.

“It was a no-brainer for me,” Gatling said. “I couldn’t have sat out anywhere else in the country except for Arkansas.”

Collen said he liked Gatling’s ball-handling skills and intangibles.

“I felt like we needed a hard-nosed kid, a kid that loved Arkansas,” he said.

After redshirting, Gatling averaged 7.7 minutes in 17 games last season with Ceirra Ricketts - an All-SEC player - starting at the point and Calli Berna, who made the SEC All-Freshman Team, backing her up.

“Erin was battling through some pretty good players, but she played hard, she remained patient,” Collen said. “Even if she hadn’t stepped up and scored 23 points the other night, she’s been a blessing for us since the day she came to campus.”

Arkansas women vs. No. 14 South Carolina

WHEN 2 p.m. today WHERE Walton Arena, Fayetteville RECORDS Arkansas 14-5, 2-4 SEC; South Carolina 17-3, 5-2 SERIES Arkansas leads 17-9 RADIO KABZ-FM, 103.7, Little Rock; KQSM-FM, 92.1, Fayetteville; KFPWAM, 1230, Fort Smith; KURM-AM, 790, Rogers

Sports, Pages 17 on 01/27/2013

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