SEC WOMEN:

Razorbacks shake off rust

By: MARTY COOK SPECIAL TO THE DEMOCRAT-GAZETTE
Published: Friday, March 15, 2013
Arkansas guard Calli Berna brings the ball down court during the Razorbacks' game against the SIUE Cougars in the first half of Thursday evening's game at Bud Walton Arena in Fayetteville.
Photo by Michael Woods
Arkansas guard Calli Berna brings the ball down court during the Razorbacks' game against the SIUE Cougars in the first half of Thursday evening's game at Bud Walton Arena in Fayetteville.

FAYETTEVILLE - Arkansas’ women’s basketball assumes it is headed for a WNIT berth Monday, and at least now it will enter the postseason coming off a victory.

The Razorbacks shook off some rust and a pesky Southern Illinois-Edwardsville team for a 63-41 victory in front of 453 fans Thursday night at Walton Arena.

Arkansas’ chances of landing a long-shot NCAA Tournament bid already were doused after the Razorbacks lost to Florida in the first round of the SEC Tournament on March 7.

Arkansas Coach Tom Collen scheduled a game between the SEC Tournament and the start of postseason so his team could have some game action to keep its edge. That plan worked fine as the Razorbacks (19-12) overcame some turnovers and general lethargy to put away the Cougars (16-15).

“We want to get ready for the postseason,” Collen said. “It was important to knock the rust off a little bit.”

The game never seemed out of Arkansas’ hands after the Razorbacks opened the game with 12 consecutive points. Senior forward Quistelle Williams made two consecutive three-pointers to spark the run, which lasted until the Cougars scored their first basket with 13:16 left inthe first half.

“It wasn’t pretty, was it?” SIU-Edwardsville Coach Paula Buscher said good-naturedly.

To their credit, the Cougars didn’t roll over. After Arkansas took its biggest lead ofthe first half at 19-4, the Cougars scored eight consecutive points to pull within 19-12.

Arkansas got three-pointers from Erin Gatling, Calli Berna and Williams in the last 4:34 of the half to take a 30-20 lead into halftime. It was a recurring theme for Arkansas, which would make a key basket or three-pointer whenever the Cougars showed signs of making a true game of it.

“We came out really rusty in the first half,” said senior forward Sarah Watkins, who scored a game-high 17 points. “It was a good game, so we don’t have to go and practice for two weeks. As a ballplayer you want to compete, and that gave us motivation.”

Arkansas committed 19 turnovers compared to 23 by the Cougars, but SIU-Edwardsville’s turnovers were far more costly. The Razorbacks outscored the Cougars 21-9 off turnovers.

“Their pressure really got to us,” Buscher said. “You have to value the ball. We couldn’t string together enough defensive stops to offset the turnovers.”

The Cougars trimmed the deficit to eight points four times in the second half, but Gatling made a three-pointer after the Cougars pulled to within 38-30. The Razorbacks then pulled away steadily over the last 13 minutes.

“They had nothing to lose,” said Berna, who tied a career high with 12 assists. “They wanted to take us down. Your pride is on the line.”

Sports, Pages 21 on 03/15/2013

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