Blossoming Berna

Arkansas women's coach Tom Collen thinks sophomore point guard Calli Berna is ready to lead his team, Texas A&M head coach Gary Blair is looking forward to his return to Fayetteville and Kentucky coach John Calipari thinks Arkansas native Archie Goodwin needs to slow down.

Arkansas women's basketball coach Tom Collen is ready to the put the fate of his team this season squarely in the hands of one talented young lady.

That would be 5-10 sophomore point guard and former Fayetteville High star Calli Berna, who Collen expects big things from this season for a program that lost five seniors.

"I think you are going to see her step to the forefront and prove to be one of the best players in this league as a sophomore and she has to do that probably for us to get where we want to go," Collen said.

Berna started the first 12 games of last season and played significant minutes in all 33 games for a team that went 24-9 and advanced to the second round of the NCAA Tournament before losing to eventual national champion Texas A&M.

"This kid has enormous potential and I just have to get her to be a little bit more aggressive on the offensive side," Collen said. "We have worked hard at that in the practice setting and she has really started to step up in our practice setting and score 20 or 30 points every practice – shooting the three well and every practice we go out there she has 10 assists and one turnover. She is really, really trying to run the team and create scoring opportunities for herself and for her teammates."

Collen thinks Berna, who average 3.6 points and was the league's fifth leading 3-point shooter in SEC games only, could be the best point guard in the league when all is said and done.

"I'm sitting there watching it unfold in practice and I am thinking this kid is going to be the best point guard in the league," Collen said. "But she has to go out in the league and prove it. It is a lot of different in practice than it is in the league."

Berna joins second-team All-SEC pick Sarah Watkins (6-3), junior guard Dominique Robinson (6-0) and junior forward Keira Peak (5-9) as players who have started at times for Arkansas.

"Practice is going good," Collen said. "We have had some health issues, but as of yesterday we had everybody in practice for the first time. We look good and are working hard. This is probably the hardest working team I have ever had. They are excited and after losing these five seniors, they really want to step up, create their own identity, not miss a beat and keep moving forward. So I know the desire is there.

"Besides being the hardest-working team, I don't know that I have ever had a team that I personally wanted to succeed more than the team I have now this year," Collen added. "A lot of that has to do with who they are character wise and their desire to be successful. I am certainly going to do all I can to help them."

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Arkansas will see an old friend this season in Fayetteville when former Lady Razorback head coach Gary Blair and his defending national champion Texas A&M program visit on Jan. 6.

Blair's wife Nan had been the head of the UA's Nursing School for the past four years, but is now an Associate Professor and still lives in Fayetteville.

"I finally get a home game," Blair joked. "Here's the question – ‘Do I sleep in my bed the night before the ballgame knowing that my wife works for the University of Arkansas or do I stay with my team at the hotel and watch game film? That's going to be a big question."

Blair's Lady Aggies won the national title last season, but have seven freshmen on the roster this season as A&M makes it move to the new league.

"The hardest thing is leaving some traditional rivals," Blair said. "I am 90 minutes from Baylor, I am 90 minutes from Austin, my alma mater is Texas Tech and Houston and Dallas are huge recruiting areas and we were winning in every sport in the Big 12. So now you are ready for a new challenge."

Blair pointed out that it doesn't matter whether he wanted to make the switch to the SEC or not.

"I am excited to be there (the SEC)," Blair said. "Did I want to go there? It doesn't matter. I go where I am told to go and I do my job. I'm a soldier."

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Former Sylvan Hills star Archie Goodwin had 32 points to lead Kentucky's scoring in its Blue-White game on Tuesday night.

Despite that, Goodwin got a mixed review from Wildcats head coach John Calipari.

"He played good last night," Calipari said. "He made one play where he did not pass it to a player ahead of him and I really rammed him because there is a lot of things you can look by, but that we can't we the way we play," Calipari said. "After the game I said, ‘You took 22 shots. You took the most shots on the team, so you never pass up a play because you are going to get your shots.'

"…He gets out of control," Calipari added about Goodwin. "He plays too fast. His pace of the game is always 110 miles per hour. You have to go 90 to 110 back to 80. He is coming head, ‘Here I come,' but that's all the growth of a player. That's what we are working on."

Calipari said he is not surprised the defending national champions are not number one this season because of losing six players to the NBA and having to reload – albeit it with big-time talent.

"We're not very good right now," Calipari said. "I think we'll be a good team eventually, hopefully, but right now we are just average. Good players, good kids. They're trying; just young. They don't play hard enough, don't play full possession, out of control."

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Missouri head coach Frank Haith did his SEC homework over the summer as his team enters its first season in the league.

"One thing that really stands out is the athleticism in this league," Haith said. "It is a very athletic league. I also think they play a style, in terms of tempo defensively, that's a little different than the Big 12 - there's more pressing, there's more aggressive play, and extending your defense in the league than there was in the Big 12. That's something we have to get used to."

Haith's job will be easier with four transfers who are eligible this season in Pepperdine's Keion Bell, Auburn transfer Earnest Ross, Oregon's Jabari Brown and UConn's Alex Oriakhi.

"We got a Christmas present with Alex Oriakhi," Haith said. "We weren't expecting that one from UConn, very late in the year, after the season. All of these guys will have an impact with our team, for sure."

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The league added another high profile coach when Frank Martin left Kansas State to take over a program that is struggling in South Carolina.

"I think I said it the day I got hire – I like challenges," Martin said. "I've been taking challenges my whole life. I was just kind of intrigued by it and thought I would take a chance and give it a go."

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Ole Miss head coach Andy Kennedy has had success at the school, but has yet to make the NCAA Tournament.

Martin thinks this season is the best chance that Kennedy has to do that.

"The pieces are in place for us to have a good team, when you return four starters and you have the most experience frontline in the SEC, it's not a bad place to start," Kennedy said. "Some thing have to come together for us, but it is the deepest team I've had an I'm anxious to start the journey with them."

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