FAYETTEVILLE, Ark. (AP) -- Leslie Howard is starting to feel at
home in Arkansas.
The junior guard had to sit out the first half of the season
after transferring from Colorado. But she scored a career-high 24
points to lead the Lady Razorbacks to a 69-63 victory Thursday
night over Florida (No. 23 ESPN/USA Today; No. 24 AP).
Howard knocked down six 3-pointers, including a jumper with just
under a minute left to lift Arkansas (13-6, 5-1 Southeastern
Conference) to its fourth straight SEC victory at home.
Florida (15-4, 3-3) built leads of 14 and 10 points, only to see
Arkansas rally behind a swarming defense and deadly outside
shooting. Howards 3-point total was only part of a barrage of 11
shots that the Lady Razorbacks made from long distance.
"For the first 17 minutes we played some pretty good
basketball," said Florida coach Carolyn Peck. "But down the
stretch we lost focus."
The Gators controlled the game early, led by a distinct size
advantage inside. The 6-foot-3 Dalila Eshe and 6-foot-2 Brittany
Davis were dominant in the paint and helped Florida to a 30-16 lead
with 4 minutes, 40 seconds left in the first half.
Eshe finished with 17 points, while Davis scored 10.
But Arkansas suddenly caught fire and went on an 11-0 run to
close the half, keyed by Melissa Hobbs and Brittany Vaughn. Hobbs
hit a momentum-changing 3-pointer after shed missed a layup, then
Vaughns driving layup with under five seconds left in the half
pulled Arkansas within 30-27.
"That was a huge shot by Brittany there at the end of the
half," said Arkansas coach Susie Gardner. "That shot gave us the
momentum heading into halftime and we were able to build on that."
Arkansas used the momentum to take a small lead early in the
second half, but as it had in the first half, Florida returned to
its inside game to take a 10-point lead at 47-37 on a lay-up by
Eshe and two free throws by Depree Bowden.
Gardner said her team never panicked.
"We just told them to stay calm and everything would be OK,"
said Gardner. "Leslie hit a couple of shots and Brittany was able
to penetrate and get some layups to keep us in it."
Arkansas whittled away at the 10-point lead and finally went
ahead when Adrienne Bush converted a steal into an easy layup with
just over seven minutes left.
It was a close game the rest of the way, but Arkansas used the
momentum of Howards outside shooting. The 5-foot-10 guard popped
loose around the perimeter for a 3-pointer with 5:34 left, giving
Arkansas a 55-53 lead. Later, with the score tied at 59, she hit
another to give Arkansas a 62-59 lead it would not relinquish.
"You just cant leave her open like that," said Peck. "We knew
that she was a shooter and we still left her open. "In a game like
this, the team that concentrates the longest usually wins and
Arkansas was able to maintain its focus."