8:00 PM ET, January 26, 2006
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."