FAYETTEVILLE (ArkansasRazorbacks.com) – University of Arkansas senior Sarah Watkins earned All-Southeastern Conference Second-Team preseason honors while the Razorbacks were picked eighth in a vote by the league's media today.
"We are happy for Sarah that she received preseason all-conference in the SEC," Arkansas head coach Tom Collen said. "It's not a secret that she is a player we are counting on to have a great year. She is working hard and it looks like she has recovered from a mid-summer fracture in her left wrist. We all have high expectations for her.
Watkins' presence in the paint made opponents think twice before driving the lane in 2011-12. A shot-blocking force, Watkins tallied 63 blocks and is third all-time at Arkansas with 161 career rejections. She finished her junior season tied for first in SEC only games with 2.5 blocks per game and third in all games with 1.9 bpg. Watkins ranked 45th in the country in blocks per game as well.
In addition to her shot-blocking ability, Watkins scored 10.0 points per game and scored in double figures in 17 contests as a junior. She also had one double-digit rebounding game grabbing a season-best 10 rebounds.
Watkins recorded a block in 26 games last year and tied her career-best with six blocks against No. 25/22 Vanderbilt tying the Arkansas record for blocks in an SEC game.
In SEC only games, Watkins finished her junior season ranked ninth in free throw percentage hitting 76.0 percent of her bonus shots. She ranked 26th in all games in scoring averaging 10.0 ppg and was seventh in free throw percentage with a 73.9 mark.
She earned preseason All-SEC Second-Team honors from the coaches and media and postseason second-team honors from the coaches. Watkins was a preseason CollegeSportsMadness.com All-SEC Second-Team selection and a fourth-team postseason pick. The Germantown, Tenn., native earned SEC Player of the Week (1-23-12) and selection to the Primetime Performers Weekly Honor Roll (1-24-12).
Watkins ranks 26th in points with 964 and 26th in rebounding with 452 heading into her senior season.
As a team, the Razorbacks returned to the NCAA Tournament last year, reaching the postseason for the third time in five seasons under Collen. Arkansas set program records for most SEC wins, most consecutive SEC wins and for the team's finish, a tie for fourth last year.
Arkansas graduated five impactful seniors who accounted for a significant amount of the team's points and rebounds and, as a result, the league's media is picking the Razorbacks eighth this season.
Collen isn't worried about the preseason predictions, however. He has a team that is blending quickly and getting better with each practice.
"Preseason predictions are always interesting but you can't put much stock in them," Collen said. "In the SEC, one win or loss can drop you from four to seventh or move you up in the same way. When you are in the 6-10 spot, it may be the difference between going to the NCAA or the WNIT. We feel we have the talent make the NCAA, but you have to prove it on the court. We are excited for the challenge."
In addition to the return of All-SEC selection Watkins, Collen returns sophomore point guard Calli Berna who earned All-SEC Freshman Team honors last year. Berna, a Fayetteville, Ark., native, started half of the season before coming in for big minutes off the bench in her first season.
"Calli started 14 games for us at the beginning of last season, and I consider her a returning starter," Collen said. "She was always on the floor for us in crucial situations and gained a lot of experience. The fact that she made the SEC All-Freshman team says a lot about how the coaches in this league feel about her potential. She is a quiet leader. She is a good defender and an excellent shooter. She makes good decisions with the basketball which is a premium quality for your point guard."
In addition, Arkansas returns the duo of Keira Peak and Dominique Robinson. The pair combined to form one of the toughest defensive stoppers in the SEC last year and they helped Arkansas to rank eighth in the nation in defense a year ago.
Robinson also reemerged as a scoring threat late in the season and had a great NCAA Tournament run.
"Keira had a great summer and has started to become a leader for us," Collen said. "She has always been a hard worker and our fans know they can always count on her best effort. She has become more consistent with her jumper and is working on improving her range. We will be counting on her to give us a little more scoring and rebounding this year.
"Dominique will be a key player for us but will be fighting her way back from off season shoulder surgery," Collen continued. "She has been held out of contact for a pretty long period of time. I don't worry about her jumping back in and being aggressive because it's one of her greatest qualities. She has always been one of our best on ball defenders and rebounders. She is anxious to get back and have a great year. The tandem of her and Keira has always been something we depend on."
Senior Quistelle Williams will also be heavily relied upon to fill the gaps left by the departing senior class. Williams also enjoyed a great ending to the season with inspired play in the postseason for the Razorbacks.
"Quistelle has a golden opportunity and we all need her to take advantage of it. Someone has to step up and play on Watkins' flank," Collen said. "Q has, at times, has played like an all-conference forward like she did the NCAA tournament last season when she led us in scoring both games. She has good shooting touch and could be our best rebounder."
Collen joins the league's coaches Thursday at SEC Media Day in Birmigham, Ala., and the Razorbacks host Rogers State Nov. 4, in the team's only exhibition game of the season.
2012-13 SEC Media Preseason Poll
5. Texas A&M
7. South Carolina
11. Mississippi State
12. Ole Miss
All-Southeastern Conference First-Team
A'dia Mathies, Kentucky
Christina Foggie, Vanderbilt
Kelsey Bone, Texas A&M
Jennifer George, Florida
Anne Marie Armstrong, Georgia
All-Southeastern Conference Second-Team
SARAH WATKINS, ARKANSAS
Jasmine Hassell, Georgia
Samarie Walker, Kentucky
Ieasia Walker, South Carolina
Meighan Simmons, Tennessee
Player of the Year
A'dia Mathies, Kentucky