Jan. 19, 2012
FAYETTEVILLE, Ark. -- Sarah Watkins appears to have found her scoring touch for Arkansas.
Watkins scored a season-high 21 points to lead the Razorbacks to a 69-47 win over Vanderbilt (No. 22 ESPN/USA Today, No. 25 AP) on Thursday night. The junior also tied her career high with six blocks as Arkansas (13-5, 2-4 Southeastern Conference) won its second straight after opening SEC play with four straight losses.
The win is the Razorbacks' first since 2006 over the Commodores, who had won 13 of the previous 14 meetings.
"I don't think there are words to describe how good it feels to get a win in the SEC," Watkins said. "I think some people might even say, 'It's a win, they should have won that game,' but any win in the SEC is going to be a battle."
Ashley Daniels added 17 points for Arkansas, which led by as many as 23 points in the second half. The Razorbacks forced 22 turnovers and held Vanderbilt (14-4, 2-3) to a season-low point total.
The loss is the second straight for the Commodores, who lost to Tennessee on Sunday. Christina Foggie had 14 points to lead Vanderbilt, which shot a season-low 32 percent in the loss.
"I think our problem is on defense," Vanderbilt coach Melanie Balcomb said. "Our defense was creating a lot of our offense, and we're not creating anything. We're not getting stops and we let a team that's been struggling shooting get open shots to start the game. We're not ready to defense and get stops."
The Commodores entered the game leading the SEC in shooting at 48 percent, but they hit just two of their first 13 shots and fell behind 24-11 after a 3-pointer by Arkansas' C'eira Ricketts.
Vanderbilt finished the first half 10 of 28 from the field and was 17 of 54 for the game, its worst shooting performance of the season.
The scoring struggles have been a theme for the Commodores since the start of SEC play. They entered the game third in the conference in scoring, averaging 76.1 points per game, but only 63.3 points in SEC play.
Vanderbilt had no answers for its woes against Arkansas, finishing 1 of 13 on 3-point attempts and surrendering 24 points to the Razorbacks off turnovers. Meanwhile, the Commodores scored only 13 points off 14 Arkansas turnovers.
"I think we took quick shots," Balcomb said. "I think by them switching and pressuring the perimeter, it made us go fast and made us take quick shots ... Since we've been in the SEC, these kids are very athletic and pressure the ball and are very physical. We haven't handled it well."
The Razorbacks led by as many as 16 points in the first half before Foggie scored six straight points to help Vanderbilt close within 34-24 late in the half. However, Lyndsay Harris answered for Arkansas with a 3-pointer at the buzzer to push the Razorbacks' lead to 37-24 at halftime.
"Our game plan was just to come out and take it at them first on the defensive end," Daniels said. "And on the defensive end it went really well for us. ... It just kind of pushed us to just keep it going and keep up the intensity and play hard."
Watkins scored 12 points in the first half, marking her third straight game in double figures after scoring a combined three points in losses to Kentucky and Tennessee. Her previous season high for points was 18 in a season-opening loss to Minnesota.
"Tonight, she stepped up in a big way," Arkansas coach Tom Collen said. "Give that kid credit, because she wasn't playing well for three games in a row. Tonight, she maybe played as well as she's played all year."
Arkansas led 48-28 early in the second half after three straight baskets by Daniels capped an 11-2 run.
Vanderbilt answered with a 7-0 run to cut the lead to 48-35 after a pair of free throws by Jasmine Lister, but that was as close as the Commodores would get. The Razorbacks followed with a 10-0 run to push the lead to 58-35, tying the largest deficit Vanderbilt has faced all season.
It was a much-needed win for Arkansas after its struggles to open SEC play.
"I was worried for our kids," Collen said. "I've been doing this for a long time, and I can bounce back ... I thought our kids needed it real bad, and they were the ones that went out and got it done."