SEC WOMEN:

UA hits a bump in SEC

By: RICK HARVEY SPECIAL TO THE DEMOCRAT-GAZETTE
Published: Friday, January 3, 2014
Arkansas' Keira Peak, right, and South Carolina's Tiffany Mitchell dive for a loose ball Thursday, Jan. 2, 2014, during the second half of the game at Bud Walton Arena in Fayetteville.
Photo by Samantha Baker
Arkansas' Keira Peak, right, and South Carolina's Tiffany Mitchell dive for a loose ball Thursday, Jan. 2, 2014, during the second half of the game at Bud Walton Arena in Fayetteville.

FAYETTEVILLE - The Arkansas women’s basketball team received its SEC wake-up call early Thursday night.

The Razorbacks missed 17 of their first 20 shots and trailed by 12 at the half as No. 13 South Carolina defeated Arkansas 55-51 in front of 2,003 at Walton Arena.

Arkansas (13-1, 0-1 SEC), which won its first 13 nonconference games by an average 33 points, has lost eight consecutive SEC openers and 10 of its past 11.

South Carolina (13-1, 1-0) outmuscled Arkansas from the start, jumping out to a big first-half lead and holding off a series of runs by the Razorbacks in the second half. Arkansas trailed 28-16 at the half.

The Razorbacks shot just 26.1 percent (18 of 69) for the game, including 5 of 19 from behind the threepoint line. They were just 6 of 31 (19.4 percent) from the field in the first half and made just 1 of 8 three-point attempts while scoring a season-low 16 points in the first half.

“They were playing tighter on us, and our shots were rushed and we were unbalanced a lot, but we also had had some open looks that we have been making,” Arkansas Coach Tom Collen said of his team’s poor start. “It’s a mental game. You miss your first couple of shots and then you think you can’t score. We went through that in the first half.

“It was definitely a learning curve for us. We will learn. Our freshmen will learn. We battled and didn’t give up, but when push comes to shove you’ve got to make more shots than we made tonight to beat a team like that.”

The Gamecocks’ lead grew to as many as 15 in the second half before Arkansas used a late rally to make things interesting at the end.

The Razorbacks used a three-pointer by Jessica Jackson - her first in six attempts on the night - to pull within 49-44 with 1:13 remaining. After South Carolina made 1 of 2 free throws to make it 50-45, Jackson missed a three-pointer with 50 seconds left.

Jackson hit two more three-pointers in the final 13.4 seconds, but the Gamecocks made 5 of 6 free throws in the final 40 seconds to seal the victory.

“We guarded in the first half,” South Carolina Coach Dawn Staley said. “We took away their strength, which is working off ball-screen action, and we executed it to a T.

“Thankfully we did go in the half with a lead because it dwindled in the second half. They sped us up and we played too fast. We rushed some shots, and Arkansas had a lot to do with that. They made us play faster than we were accustomed to playing.”

Jackson, whose shot was challenged tightly from the start, scored 14 points on 4-of-18 shooting, including 3 of 9 from behind the three-point line. She had only three points going into the final 1:25 of the game.

“She got a little frustrated at times,” Collen said of the highly-touted freshman from Jacksonville. “It’s a first-time experience of really being guarded like that for her. I don’t think she lost any confidence. It was a good eye-opener for her.”

Keira Peak, Arkansas’s lone senior, shot 7 of 14 and finished with 14 points. Junior Jhasmin Bowen had 12 rebounds, and Calli Berna had 6 assists.

The Gamecocks, who had 21 turnovers, were led by Tiffany Mitchell (16 points) and Aleighsa Welch (11).

The Gamecocks took advantage of 1-of-10 shooting by the Razorbacks in the opening six minutes to jump out to a 12-2 lead.

A layup by Jackson and a three-pointer by freshman McKenzie Adams off a steal from classmate Kelsey Brooks pulled Arkansas within 12-7, but South Carolina scored eight consecutive points - including a pair in the lane from6-4 freshman center Alaina Coates - and led 20-7.

Baskets by Bowen, Brooks and Adams and a free throw by Jackson made it 20-14 with 4:58 left in the first half, but another 8-0 run by the Gamecocks - sparked by six consecutive points from Welch - helped South Carolina take its 12-point lead into the half.

In other top 25/SEC women’s games Thursday, Danielle Ballard matched a career high with 25 points and No. 16 LSU held off No. 5 Tennessee 80-77 after squandering most of a 16-point lead in the last 4½ minutes. LSU (11-2, 1-0 SEC) ended a seven-game losing streak in the rivalry and ended a string of 16 consecutive victories in SEC openers for the Lady Vols (11-2, 0-1). … Jennifer O’Neill had 17 points to help No. 6 Kentucky beat Alabama 85-63 in the SEC opener for both teams. Azia Bishop added 16 points and eight rebounds for Kentucky (13-1) and Shafontaye Myers led Alabama (7-7) with 20 points. ... Jasmine Lister scored 24 points and the Vanderbilt defense smothered No. 19 Georgia’s top scorers to earn a 66-58 win in the SEC opener in Nashville, Tenn. Christina Foggie added 11 points for the Commodores (12-2), who won their ninth consecutive game. Georgia (12-2) was led by Khaalidah Miller with 16, and Krista Donald and Erika Ford had 12 each.

THURSDAY’S GAMES South Carolina 55, Arkansas 51 Missouri 85, Mississippi 76 Texas A&M 74, Texas-El Paso 58 Kentucky 85, Alabama 63 LSU 80, Tennessee 77 Florida 82, Mississippi State 72 Vanderbilt 66, Georgia 58 SUNDAY’S GAMES All times Central Vanderbilt at South Carolina, noon Arkansas at Missouri, 2 p.m.

Alabama at Texas A&M, 2 p.m.

Auburn at Mississippi State, 2 p.m.

Florida at Kentucky, 2 p.m.

LSU at Tulane, 2 p.m.

Tennessee at Georgia, 3 p.m.

Sports, Pages 17 on 01/03/2014

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