Monday, March 09, 2015

SPORTS STORY >> UA women beat Rebs, wait for bid

Leader sportswriter

The Arkansas Razorback Women’s basketball team entered this week’s SEC Tournament at North Little Rock’s Verizon Arena hoping to earn a spot in the NCAA Tournament later, and made a strong case for itself.

Arkansas, the No. 9 seed in the tournament, beat No. 8 seed Ole Miss in Thursday’s opening game by the final score of 72-61, and on Friday, the Razorbacks competed with top-seeded South Carolina (28-2) through the first portion of the second half before the taller and more talented Gamecocks pulled away in the latter portion, winning by the final score of 58-36.

In Thursday’s win over the Rebels (17-13), a team that beat Arkansas by 14 points back in early January, Arkansas (17-13) got 21 second-half points from Jacksonville native and JHS alum Jessica Jackson, which helped the Hogs pull away in the second half.

Jackson had just four points in the first half Thursday, but came alive in the second to lead the home-state team to the NCAA resume-boosting win.

Jackson gave the credit for her second-half scoring tear to her teammates.

“My teammates are the ones that keep me going,” said Jackson. “We all feed off each other. We were able to get some defensive stops and feed off of that, and that helped our offense. I always get told by everyone that if your first couple of shots don’t come to you, don’t let that define your whole game. You’ve just got to keep playing, and hopefully the shots will fall. So my teammates are what keep me going.”

 Arkansas led 29-28 at halftime Thursday, but shot 65 percent from the floor in the second half to help further its lead.

The Razorbacks also made 28 of 35 free throws in the game, while Ole Miss went just 8 for 17 from the stripe.

Fellow Arkansas starting forward and Cabot High School graduate Melissa Wolff didn’t see as much time on the floor Thursday as she usually does, playing just 12 minutes, but she played 38 minutes in Friday’s loss to South Carolina, and finished that game with eight points and four rebounds.

Even though the Razorbacks lost by 22, they cut the Gamecocks’ lead to 38-31 at the midway point of the second half after trailing 31-17 at halftime.

South Carolina responded, though, and once the Gamecocks pushed their lead back to double digits, they piled on the points as the game came to a close.

Despite the loss, Wolff and Jackson both feel good about their chances at getting an NCAA Tournament bid on selection Monday, which is March 16.

“I’m really proud of my team,” said Wolff. “I think we fought hard and we’ve done everything that we can to get in that tournament. That’s been a goal of ours since the very beginning, and I think that we’ve given it everything that we have.

“I feel pretty confident. We’ve had a tough schedule all the way through the season. Half of the SEC is ranked in the top-25, and I think we’ve battled well and we’ve proven that we’ve done everything we can and we deserve a spot.”

“I think we’ve competed well as a team this postseason,” Jackson said, “and I think we deserve to be in the NCAA Tournament.”

Jackson finished the Razor-backs’ two games played in the SEC Tournament with 38 points and 11 rebounds, and Wolff added 10 points, eight rebounds and three blocks.

Entering the SEC Tournament, the Razorback Women were projected as a No. 12 seed in the NCAA Tournament and was one of the last four teams projected to make it in.