Photo Courtesy: UA Athletics (Walt Beazley)
FAYETTEVILLE, Ark. (Univ. of Ark.) - After a two game road trip through Mississippi, the University of Arkansas women's basketball team hosts a big matchup with No. 10/8 Kentucky at Bud Walton Arena on Thursday. Arkansas enters the matchup at 15-7, 3-6 in the SEC, and are looking for a premier victory over the Wildcats.
The Razorbacks are 1-4 versus ranked teams this season, with a win over No. 17 Kansas on Dec. 6. Arkansas has been on the verge of winning many of those games, taking an 11-point halftime lead over No. 13 Georgia, and falling by just one possession against No. 13 Oklahoma and No. 14 South Carolina. Junior forward Keira Peak leads Arkansas against ranked foes, posting 12.2 points per game, better than her season average of 10.5 points per game. Sophomore guard Calli Berna also has stepped up against ranked opponents, averaging nine points and 5.2 rebounds in the five games.
"Kentucky is a great team, but it would be a great win," Berna said. "They're very athletic, and play hard on defense. We have to know what we can do and we need to be confident in each other. They're going to bring it, so we have to go out, battle and try and get the win."
Sarah Watkins has been a force for the Razorbacks this season, leading the team with 13.0 points per game this season. She averaged 21.5 points on the two-game road swing, including a career high 28 points on 11-15 shooting at Ole Miss. Watkins also leads the SEC in free throw percentage at 84.3 percent, and has played in 119 consecutive games, the third longest streak in the SEC.
Arkansas trails the all-time series 16-13, but the Razorbacks are 9-3 in Fayetteville. UA will try and shut down the Wildcats with strong defense. Arkansas is second in the SEC in field goal defense, allowing just 35.3 percent shooting. The Razorbacks have held ranked teams to just 58.4 points per game this season.
"We have to come into it with a positive frame of mind," Arkansas head coach Tom Collen said. "I want to make sure the team doesn't feel like their back is against the wall and put too much pressure on themselves. We have to come into this type of game with the attitude that it's a great opportunity for us. "
Kentucky comes in to the game at 19-3, 7-2 in the SEC. They have lost two of their last three games after starting 18-1. The Wildcats feature the reigning SEC Player of the Year in A'dia Mathies, who leads UK with 15.3 points per game. Denesha Stalllworth averages 13.4 points per game, while Samarie Walker leads the team with 8.6 rebounds per game. The Wildcats are outscoring opponents by 23.9 points per game, the leading margin in the SEC.
"Kentucky is arguably the best team in the league," Collen said. "We know what to expect. We're going to have to rise to the occasion. We've played everybody close but we haven't been able to get that elusive big win. Those are the one that make people look at Arkansas. This would be a good win to get at home."