Nate Allen is a columnist for the Arkansas Democrat-Gazette. A graduate of the University of Missouri, Allen is a voter for the Heisman Trophy. He has authored three books about the Razorbacks.
It’s sink or swim for 13-0 UA women
University of Arkansas coach Tom Collen watches from the sidelines during the first half of a Dec. 10, 2013 game against the Tulsa Golden Hurricane at Bud Walton Arena in Fayetteville.
FAYETTEVILLE - Though impressive to behold, Arkansas’ 13-0 women’s basketball nonconference start has been rivaled by current Coach Tom Collen and his Arkansas predecessor Susie Gardner.
Gardner’s fourth and final Arkansas team posted a 15-1 nonconference mark that morphed into a 3-11 SEC season. That season ended with a 30-point loss to Ole Miss in the first round of the SEC Tournament in North Little Rock, and Gardner immediately resigned.
Collen started 15-0 with his first Arkansas team in 2007-2008 but skidded 2-12 in the SEC.
Collen built that team around stellar post player Lauren Erving, a second-year junior-college transfer, but she suffered a career-ending knee injury in the SEC opener, and Arkansas’ season was virtually over, too.
This Arkansas team, while counting on everybody for something, has a greater nucleus, Collen said.
Freshmen Jessica Jackson in the post and McKenzie Adams and Kelsey Brooks on the perimeter, junior point guard Calli Berna, junior post Jhasmin Bowen and senior forward Keira Peak all can score. Four average from 10.5 to Jackson’s 14.8.
“I feel good about this team,” Collen said Monday, whose Razorbacks open SEC play against No.
13 South Carolina (12-1) Thursday night at Walton Arena. “I think this team is one of the more talented teams we have had here. I think our defense is still solid and I think we can make shots. They are going to score the basketball. I think that’s what separates this team.” Collen said he knew coming into the season that returning players Berna, Bowen and Peak needed to improve and that the freshmen needed to be as good as advertised for Arkansas to have a great year.
“So far that has happened,” he said. “It has all fallen into place.” Much of the optimism starts with the play of top 10 national recruit Jackson, a 6-3 forward from Jacksonville, who is the best player brought in by Collen in his seven year.
“I think we are looking at just the tip of the iceberg,” Collen said Jackson, the team’s leading scorer.
“She has everything you want in a player that has the potential to be that star player you can build things around.”
Adams and Brooks have sizzled shooting threes at 28 of 56 and 16 of 35.
Bowen and Peak both have stepped up, Collen said. Point guard Berna glues it all together, 104 assists vs. only 24 turnovers and leading the defense.
“She does all the little things,” Collen said. “She is a great defender and she gets steals. She is a pass first point guard. If you picked teams every day in practice, the first choice would be Calli.”
Collen said the competition elevates considerably in the SEC, starting with big, strong South Carolina.
“It’s the SEC opening game and we are playing a team ranked in the top 15 and hopefully the fans will come back out,” Collen said. “They want to see good teams play.”
Especially if one of those good teams appears to be their own.
Sports, Pages 14 on 01/01/2014