UA women keeping NCAA hopes alive

By: Bob Holt
Published: Thursday, February 13, 2014
Arkansas guard Calli Berna, left, speaks with coach Tom Collen during the second half of play against Mississippi State Sunday, Jan. 12, 2014, in Bud Walton Arena in Fayetteville.
Photo by Andy Shupe
Arkansas guard Calli Berna, left, speaks with coach Tom Collen during the second half of play against Mississippi State Sunday, Jan. 12, 2014, in Bud Walton Arena in Fayetteville.

FAYETTEVILLE - Arkansas’ women’s basketball team isn’t giving up hope on making an NCAA Tournament run after a 67-49 loss at No. 5 South Carolina dropped the Razorbacks into a tie for 11th in the SEC standings.

“We have every reason to probably be down, but right now my team’s not down at all,” Arkansas Coach Tom Collen said. ‘They’re practicing hard. They’re still optimistic. They feel like they can make a run at this and find a way.

“They still have a great attitude, and I just think they’re looking forward to getting home and playing against somebody other than South Carolina.”

The Razorbacks (16-8, 3-8) are back home to play Alabama (11-12, 4-6) at 7 tonight in Walton Arena.

“Our season isn’t over,” Arkansas guard Calli Berna said. “There are games we’re very capable of winning. There are games that people might think we should lose, but we want to win those games.

“We want to push through, have a good SEC Tournament and make it to the NCAA Tournament. We’re not counting that out yet.”

Arkansas has made one NCAA Tournament appearance, in 2012, during Collen’s previous six seasons.

“We don’t want to just let another season go by and not make it to the NCAA Tournament,” said freshman forward Jessica Jackson, who is averaging team highs of 16.3 points and 6.0 rebounds. “We want to push forward and win.”

After playing Alabama, the Razorbacks finish the regular season against No. 16 Vanderbilt (17-6, 6-4), at No. 19 LSU (18-6, 7-4), at No. 14Texas A&M (18-6, 8-2) and against Missouri (14-10, 3-8).

Collen said he continues to believe the Razorbacks, who have three freshmen among their top six scorers, have the potential to be an NCAA Tournament team, but that they need to win their remaining SEC home games to have a realistic chance.

“There’s no question we’re fighting the experience thing and the youth thing, but I think we’ve got the talent,” Collen said. “I think we’ve shown that before.”

Collen said the Razorbacks need to regain the confidence that when they step on the court, they believe they are the better team.

“That’s what all great teams have, they believe in themselves, and maybe our team lacks that right now,” Collen said. “I think the only way you get that feeling back is to go out there and win games.”

Collen said he’s confident the future is bright for Arkansas, whose only senior starter is forward Keira Peak, but that the young players don’t want to wait to play in the NCAA Tournament.

“I think there’s a lot of pride at stake,” he said. “They came here with the idea that they were going to help build this program and be in the NCAA Tournament from Day One, so I think that’s their attitude.”

Jackson said the Razorbacks can’t get down on themselves in their struggle to win SEC games.

“You’ve got to learn from that and try to do better as you go on,” Jackson said. ‘We’ve got to stay positive with each other. If we start getting negative towards each other, it gets worse and there’s not going to be any winning.”

TODAY’S GAMES All times Central Auburn at Vanderbilt, 6 p.m.

Mississippi at Kentucky, 6 p.m.

Alabama at Arkansas, 7 p.m.

Georgia at Texas A&M, 7 p.m.

SUNDAY’S GAMES Texas A&M at Alabama, noon Florida at Georgia, noon Kentucky at Tennessee, noon Vanderbilt at Mississippi State, 1 p.m.

Missouri at Auburn, 2 p.m.

South Carolina at LSU, 2:30 p.m.

Sports, Pages 21 on 02/13/2014