UA women (2-7) need SEC revival

By: Tom Murphy
Published: Thursday, February 6, 2014
Arkansas freshman Jessica Jackson (00) reacts to a turnover during the second half of play Sunday, Feb. 2, 2014, at Bud Walton Arena in Fayetteville.
Photo by Andy Shupe
Arkansas freshman Jessica Jackson (00) reacts to a turnover during the second half of play Sunday, Feb. 2, 2014, at Bud Walton Arena in Fayetteville.

FAYETTEVILLE - The body blows have come rapid fire for the Arkansas women’s basketball team since its 13-0 nonconference start.

The Razorbacks (15-7, 2-7 SEC) have lost six of their past seven games, but Coach Tom Collen said his team is not down for the count heading into today’s 7 p.m. game against resurgent Florida (16-6, 6-3 SEC).

“I don’t think they’ve given up yet,” Collen said. “I think they’re hungry. They want to beat Florida. They want to get back on track.”

Arkansas’ home results have been confounding, with their lone victory at Walton Arena against Ole Miss sandwiched by losses to lower-tier SEC teams Mississippi State and Auburn. The Razorbacks led Auburn 46-38 with 4:07 remaining before late ball security and shooting lapses proved costly in a 56-48 loss.

“Although it wasn’t a pretty game throughout, I think they felt like they had the game secured and then they just made some mistakes down the stretch that cost them a win,” Collen said of his team.

Florida represents the first of Arkansas’ three opponents they will play twice, joined by South Carolina and Missouri. The Gators, who defeated Arkansas 59-52 in Gainesville, Fla., on Jan. 9, have won three games in a row against Auburn, Alabama and Ole Miss.

Florida is in a three-way tie with LSU and Vanderbilt for fourth place in the SEC behind South Carolina, Tennessee and Texas A&M and is nearing lock status for an NCAA Tournament berth.

But Gators Coach Amanda Butler realizes the Razorbacks are dangerous.

“Arkansas is a tough place to play,” Butler said. “We played them here the first go-round. They were 25th in the country, and they’re still a very, very good team with some really dynamic players and very well coached.”

Arkansas freshman Jessica Jackson is scoring 19.6 points in conference play, second-best in the league.

Florida has bounced back into league contention with a mostly four-guard lineup, led by Jaterra Bonds, who averages 15.7 points per game, and Kayla Lewis, who is at 10.7 points per game.

The Gators are without forward Christin Mercer, who was suspended indefinitely last month following her arrest on a robbery charge, and 6-4 center Viktorija Dimaite, who tore a knee ligament before the season started.

“Their team has really overachieved,” Collen said. “They don’t really have a legitimate post player. … They’re not big, and they’re not a big rebounding team. They pose a problem because they’ll put four guards out there and they’re hard to guard and they shoot it pretty well.”

Florida has the largest rebounding deficit in the conference at minus-3.6 per game, and in league games the margin is even worse at an SEC low minus-6.6 per game.

The Razorbacks rank last in conference games with 36 percent shooting and 57 points per game.

“The bottom line is we have to shoot the basketball better,” Collen said. “That’s been our Achilles’ heel since conference play started. We’ve just simply missed a lot of open shots and we’re not scoring enough points to get wins.”

Tonight’s game

Arkansas women vs. Florida WHEN 7 p.m.

WHERE Walton Arena, Fayetteville RECORDS Arkansas 15-7, 2-7 SEC; Florida 16-6, 6-3

Sports, Pages 19 on 02/06/2014