FAYETTEVILLE, Ark. (Univ. of Ark.) - The University of Arkansas women's basketball team will open the WNIT on Thursday, hosting the University of Memphis at 7 p.m. at Bud Walton Arena. The Razorbacks (19-12, 6-10 SEC) begin postseason play against the Tigers (17-14, 8-8 CUSA).
"We're excited about the WNIT," Arkansas head coach Tom Collen said. "It's a great tournament, and it's very well run. I like this team, but we have to prove how good we are. Our mindset is good, so we have to move forward and focus on the next game."
Arkansas is making their sixth WNIT appearance in program history, and is 13-4 all-time. They won the 1999 title over Wisconsin, and set a program attendance record with 14,163 fans. The Razorbacks are 4-3 against this year's WNIT field, with wins against Missouri (twice), Hawai'i and Texas Southern. They are 5-0 in WNIT first round games, and 11-1 all-time in WNIT games in Fayetteville.
The Razorbacks open the postseason after concluding the regular season with a 63-41 win over SIU - Edwardsville. Arkansas is led by a pair of senior forwards, as Sarah Watkins paces the team with 13.0 ppg followed by Quistelle Williams with 10.4 ppg and a team-leading 7.0 rebounds per game. Both seniors went over the 500 rebound plateau during the season, and Watkins became the 17th player in program history to reach both 1,000 points and 500 rebounds.
Watkins is fifth in the SEC in free throw percentage (78.5 percent) and seventh in conference games in blocks (1.3 per game). Williams scored in double figures 17 times, and led the team with five double-doubles on the year.
"We look at it as a good opportunity for our program," Watkins explained. "We want to finish postseason play strong. It's an opportunity for us to play more games and compete with different teams."
Arkansas also is buoyed by a strong, underclassmen-led backcourt. Sophomore point guard Calli Berna recorded 198 assists, the most in the SEC and 35 more than the second highest total. Berna has a 2.4 assist/turnover ratio, which is third in the SEC and eighth in the NCAA. She was ninth in the SEC with 65 steals, and averaged 39.3 minutes during conference play, the most in the SEC. At the shooting guard spot, freshman Dominique Wilson has come on strong down the stretch, starting 13 of the final 14 games. Wilson averaged 6.3 points per game, tied for 11th among SEC freshmen. She posted double figures six times during conference play.
Memphis is making their fourth consecutive postseason appearance, and third consecutive in the WNIT. Arkansas leads the all-time series with Memphis 9-3, and has won the last eight games. The Tigers have three players who average in double figures, led by Nicole Dickson with 18.6 points per game and a team best 7.1 rebounds per game. Ariel Hern checks in with 13.7 points per game and followed by Bilqis Abdul-Qaadir with 10.6 points per game.
"Playing Memphis is a great opportunity for us," Collen said. "It's a good regional rivalry. They are a tough matchup, and an extremely, athletic and high scoring team."