Arkansas eyeing NCAA berth after SEC win streak
Tom Collen wanted to do everything possible to forget about
those first four Southeastern Conference games.
The Razorbacks’ coach went so far as to put up a new group of
standings in the team’s locker room, one that featured only nine
SEC teams rather than the league’s full complement of 12.
Collen’s philosophy: Arkansas had already lost to the top three
teams in the league – Georgia, Kentucky and Tennessee – so why not
just focus on finishing at the top of what was left?
Whatever the reasoning or psychology, Collen’s plan worked.
Following a defeat at Mississippi on Jan. 12 – a loss that sent the
Razorbacks to 0-4 in the SEC – Arkansas has won a program-best
eight SEC games in a row.
The streak has lifted the Razorbacks (19-5, 8-4 SEC) from the
bottom of the league to the top of Collen’s limited standings.
Heading into Thursday night’s game with LSU (17-8, 7-5), Arkansas
is fourth in the SEC – with hopes of returning to the NCAA
tournament for the first time since the 2002-03 season.
”They took some hard knocks again this year, but they’ve been
able to rebound from it,” Collen said. ”I don’t know if they
could have rebounded from 0-4 last year, but this year they
The Razorbacks are rolling behind a group of five seniors who
formed Collen’s first recruiting class. C’eira Ricketts, Lyndsay
Harris and Ashley Daniels were forced to play large roles as
freshmen – resulting in growing pains at times.
The lowest point was a 12-18 record two years ago, Collen’s only
losing campaign in 12 seasons as a head coach to that point. He had
never finished with less than 19 wins before that, but a lack of
depth and experience led to a 4-12 record in the SEC.
It was the first time Collen, now in his fifth season at
Arkansas, had failed to reach a postseason tournament – after
reaching the NCAA tourney in eight of his nine previous seasons at
Colorado State and Louisville.
The Razorbacks rebounded last season to finish 22-12, but they
still struggled to a 6-10 mark in the SEC and reached the
quarterfinals of the WNIT.
This season, however, they have found success.
”We play well together and we feel that,” freshman Calli Berna
said. ”It’s something you feel on the court. You go out there and
know that we’re on the same page and working for the same
”Sometimes people overlook that aspect of the game, but I think
going on the floor now as opposed to a little earlier in the
season, we can feel that and it’s definitely worked to our
Another area Arkansas feels as though is being overlooked is its
ranking, or lack thereof. Despite its winning streak, along with
three wins over ranked teams this season, the Razorbacks are still
unranked. They are 28th in votes in the AP poll, three spots behind
No. 25 South Carolina – which Arkansas easily defeated 68-47 last
”(We’re) not necessarily surprised that we’re not; maybe
surprised as some of the other teams that are that we’ve beaten,”
Harris said. ”But I feel like a lot of that is based on your
history of your program. We’re trying to be like those programs
that are always in the Top 25, so we’re doing what we have to
Collen only cares about the rankings because of the recognition
it provides the players. He has no doubt that if Arkansas keeps
winning, it will get all the recognition it deserves.
”I’m OK playing the underdog role,” Collen said. ”The only
thing you can control is what you do on the basketball court. If
you go out and keep winning games, then eventually you’re going to
be recognized. When that comes, it will be even sweeter that we had
to work hard for it.”
Arkansas hasn’t finished the regular season in the top four in
the SEC since the 1994-95 season, but that’s where it is at the
moment – along with eyeing a career-ending NCAA tournament
appearance for its seniors.
”We would like nothing more than to leave on good terms,”
Harris said. ”I think this is the best way to leave, the way we’re
going right now. It just feels good after all the things we’ve been
through. We’ve been through some heart aches and some tough times,
and it just feels good to finally get to this point.”