Wild ride, satisfying finish
Jackson, Wolff spearhead rally in wild 2nd half
Arkansas forward Jessica Jackson drives to the hoop past Ole Miss defender Tia Faleru in the first half of Sunday afternoon's game at Bud Walton Arena in Fayetteville.
FAYETTEVILLE - Arkansas Coach Tom Collen went against his wife’s wishes Sunday afternoon.
She’ll probably forgive him.
Collen made a defensive call in the final moments of the game - one usually left up to his wife Nicki, Arkansas’ primary defensive play-caller - and that decision came up big as the Razorbacks held off Ole Miss 68-65 in front of an announced crowd of 1,556 at Walton Arena.
“I rarely trump Nicki on anything,” Collen said.
Two free throws from Melissa Wolff gave Arkansas a three-point lead with 15.2 seconds remaining, and Collen overruled his wife, putting the Razorbacks in a zone defense for the Lady Rebels’ final shot attempt.
The move seemed to confuse Ole Miss senior point guard Valencia McFarland, who shredded Arkansas’ man defense most of the game and had 25 points on 6 of 12 shooting. McFarland, however, didn’t get off a clean shot against the zone and missed a three-pointer just before the final buzzer.
“I made the decision to go into the zone,” Collen said. “It just didn’t matter who we put on the floor, they weren’t going to stay in front of McFarland. As soon as she saw that zone I think she stopped trying. That was my call and it worked out.”
Collen said, jokingly, that maybe he should make more of the defensive calls.
“Maybe I need to trump her every once in a while more often,” he said. “I don’t know.”
Arkansas ended a three-game losing streak, but the Razorbacks endured a second-half roller-coaster ride, building a 16-point lead before falling behind by seven.
Freshman Jessica Jackson, who finished with a career-high 31 points and 10 rebounds, scored 13 first-half points as Arkansas (15-4, 2-4 in SEC) led 37-28 at the half.
Jackson added a three-pointer and an inside jumper at the start of the second half to push the Razorbacks’ lead to 45-29 with 16:20 remaining.
Ole Miss (9-10, 0-5) came roaring back, outscoring the Razorbacks 25-2 over an eight-minute span to take a 54-47 lead with 7:05 play. Arkansas missed 11 consecutive shots during that span.
The Razorbacks came back with two three-pointers from Jackson and two baskets from Wolff to pull within a 63-61 with 2:45 remaining. Wolff tied it 63-63 on a putback with 1:43 left and the Razorbacks hit 5 of 6 free throws to help secure the victory.
“Give credit to Arkansas,” Ole Miss Coach Matt Insell said. “They made the play at the end to win it. You have a team that comes from 16 down in the second half and gives everything they had to get a win right there, and it just doesn’t happen.”
Jackson and Wolff, who played high school basketball 8 miles apart at Jacksonville and Cabot, respectively, combined for 45 of the Razorbacks’ 68 points and 18 of the team’s 39 rebounds.
“Jackson just keeps getting better and better,” Collen said. “She’s starting to get in better shape, is getting tougher and her rebounding is improving. I think this is just the tip of the iceberg for her. … And Melissa was the player of the game. She came off the bench, hit the boards and guarded well.”
Arkansas’ victory came after three close losses - at Florida (59-52), at home vs. Mississippi State (54-50) and at Georgia (60-58).
“The key was staying relaxed,” said Wolff, a sophomore. “We had to stay relaxed and it was comforting to know what can happen when we do that.
“It was frustrating for the game to get close again, but I think we knew we could do it and knew we had what it takes to get over the hump.” Arkansas doesn’t play again until traveling to No. 10 Kentucky on Sunday and then meeting No. 12 Tennessee the following Thursday. The Razorbacks return home Feb. 2 against Auburn.
Collen said Sunday’s victory and midweek bye give the Razorbacks a chance to regroup and get better with the toughest part of their schedule coming up.
“I think we really need a break [at] that this point,” Collen said.
Sports, Pages 13 on 01/20/2014