C'eira Ricketts' 16 help Arkansas storm to 7th straight SEC win

FAYETTEVILLE, Ark. -- Tom Collen is finished bemoaning the four-game losing streak to open Southeastern Conference play at Arkansas.

The Razorbacks coach is much more focused these days on Arkansas' SEC winning streak, which improved to a program-best seven games with a 68-47 win over No. 24 South Carolina on Thursday night.

C'eira Ricketts scored 16 points and had seven rebounds and seven assists to lead Arkansas (18-5, 7-4), which hasn't lost since a 60-54 defeat at Mississippi on Jan. 12. That was the Razorbacks' fourth in a row, a stretch that included three ranked teams.

Times have certainly changed since for Arkansas -- which moved past the Gamecocks and into fourth in the SEC with the win. The school hasn't finished the regular season in the top four in the SEC since a fourth-place finish during the 1994-95 season.

"I think it was the most important (win)," Collen said. "... Right now, we just want to keep this thing going one game at a time and see if we can't figure out how to finish in the top four. That's something we haven't talked about for a long time."

The Razorbacks led by as many as 18 points in the first half against the Gamecocks (18-6, 7-4), during which they were 13 of 23 (57 percent) from the field. Arkansas forced South Carolina into 23 turnovers, and Ashley Daniels had 13 points and Dominique Robinson added 12.

Ricketts, meanwhile, was everywhere while scoring in double figures for the fourth time in five games. The senior controlled the tempo from the early going, scoring 11 points in the first half. She also had two of the Razorbacks' 16 steals, raising her career total to 293 -- equaling Tracy Webb's school record set in 1987.

"I think we have to take the mentality like 'We're not going to lose, we can't lose and we've got to keep going,'" Ricketts said. "It just feels good to be on this winning streak."

While Arkansas entered the game looking to make a statement with its third win over a ranked team, the Gamecocks were coming off their biggest win of the season -- a 64-60 win at Tennessee on Feb. 2. That was South Carolina's first win over the Lady Volunteers since 1980 and Tennessee's first home SEC loss since 2008.

The win helped the Gamecocks enter the rankings this week, but they weren't ready to handle the success against the Razorbacks. South Carolina shot just 35 percent (17 of 48) and its turnovers led to 26 points by Arkansas -- which scored 15 straight points after Markeshia Grant opened the game with a 3-pointer for the Gamecocks.

"What happened was we had a huge letdown," South Carolina coach Dawn Staley said. "It went into our preparation the last couple of days, and when we don't prepare well, we don't usually perform well.

"... I thought they wanted the game more than we did, and I never thought I would say that in coaching the South Carolina women's basketball team."

Ieasia Walker scored 11 points to lead the Gamecocks, who cut Arkansas' early double-digit lead to 22-13 midway through the first half after a Tina Roy 3-pointer.

The Razorbacks once again had an answer, scoring eight-straight points to push their lead to 31-13. Ricketts had five points during the run for Arkansas, which made no secret that South Carolina's ranking and pregame smiles provided extra motivation as it tries to reach the NCAA tournament for the first time since the 2002-03 season.

The Razorbacks led by as many as 23 points in the second half, hoping to make a statement of their own -- much like the Gamecocks' win over Tennessee.

"It's a big win for our program," Collen said. "South Carolina just jumped into the polls. I'm not sure why we're not getting any votes at all in the coaches' poll, that's a little frustrating to me. But maybe we'll get their attention now with this win."