FAYETTEVILLE — Arkansas point guard Calli Berna has improved as a scorer during her sophomore season, boosting her average from 3.6 to 7.2 points a game.
She had a 22-point outing in the Razorbacks’ season opener and has reached double figures eight times. She leads Arkansas in 3-point field goals (34) and attempts (114), and also serves as one of the team’s most prominent free-throw shooters.
But the Fayetteville native’s satisfaction this season doesn’t have anything to do with her point total. She has found more joy in helping teammates.
"I don’t think there’s any greater feeling than seeing a teammate open and knowing you can get that pass to them," Berna said. "I just think that’s what is great about basketball is that extra pass, then the next person getting that shot."
Berna has excelled at doing just that this season. In fact, she’s on track to become the school’s single-season assist leader when the Razorbacks (20-12) play Tulane (23-8) in the second round of the WNIT in Bud Walton Arena at 2 p.m. today.
Berna has 204 assists this season and is one shy of breaking the program record, which has been held by former Razorback Amy Wright since 2001-02. It’s a mark she should reach today, barring an unforeseen setback, considering the Arkansas floor general leads the Southeastern Conference in assists a game (6.4).
Arkansas coach Tom Collen — who also recruited Wright when he was an assistant coach on Gary Blair’s staff — said it’s an impressive achievement. One Berna deserves because of her performance as a first-year starter.
"There’s a lot of pressure on her as a sophomore to be able to run this team and get the ball where it needs to go," Collen said. "I couldn’t be more pleased with the success that she’s had this year."
Berna has been the key cog for the Razorbacks all season, stepping into a starting role after being eased into things behind a veteran backcourt in 2011-12.
She has hardly left the floor as a sophomore, averaging 35.2 minutes. Berna has played 40 or more minutes 13 times this season. Collen admits he has probably played her too much, but Berna’s value running the offense is unmistakable.
Her assist-to-turnover ration (2.5 to 1) is one of the SEC’s best.
"She’s taken care of the ball better statistically than what I imagined she might be able to," Collen said. "In this conference there are an awful lot of teams that play great defense and pressure the basketball hard. That’s been a tough assignment for her. People have gotten to the point where they understand if they can take Calli Berna out of the picture, they can keep us out of our offenses, so that’s been tough."
Berna has handled the pressure. It was evident in the first-round win against Memphis on Thursday night, when Berna scored 14 points and had six assists.
"She’s very smart. She’s very intelligent. She’s big enough that she can see over defenses and really find the open player." Memphis coach Melissa McFerrin said after Arkansas’ win. "I thought she did a great job against our halfcourt trap of getting the ball deep down the floor. .... She understands how to play out of double teams. She understands how to find open people. Her court vision is outstanding."
So it’s no secret Berna’s efforts will be important again as Arkansas tries to advance to the WNIT’s Round of 16 with a win against Tulane.
It may not take long for Berna to eclipse Wright’s record and the guard said it would be an honor. She grew up attending Arkansas games and has followed the program.
"I think Arkansas is such a great program and all the people that have played here before me are really, really good players," Berna said. "For them to even have gotten that record and me having the possibility of breaking it, I know that will be a definite honor because I know those players were great if they played Arkansas."
Berna also was quick to stress setting the single-season assist record wasn’t at the top of her list of goals for today’s game, though.
Moving to the top of the Arkansas chart would be an honor for the sophomore. But Berna doesn’t want the accomplishment to come in a season-ending loss.
"If I get my two assists the next game, but we don’t win that’s not really what I’m looking for," Berna said. "It’s good to have those assists so you can have goals. If I do break it it’s something I want to break the next year and continue to build on that.
"I’m excited, but we’re looking to win and that’s the most important thing."