BY DUDLEY E. DAWSON
While every basketball game she plays is important to Arkansas sophomore transfer and Native American Carly Keats, this Monday’s has a special place in her heart.
The Razorbacks (3-0) will host the University of Central Arkansas (2-1) in a a 7 p.m. contest at Bud Walton Arena that will serve to honor Native American Heritage Month and be televised by SEC +.
Keats, a 5-8 guard and member of the Choctaw Nation from Choctaw, Miss. is averaging 7.5 point per game for the Razorbacks while having knocked down 8 of 23 3-pointers, including a quartet in a 77-36 over Little Rock last Tuesday.
“This game is important to me because it helps me showcase my Native Talent and most importantly I want to show the youth that I’ve made it and they can, too, and always keep God first,’ Keats noted in a promotion for the night.
The Razorbacks will wear special Nike N7 uniforms, the National Anthem will be sung in Cherokee by Ella Mounce, there will be a special halftime performance by members of the Choctaw Nation of Oklahoma and tickets are just $3.
Keats is working with Choctaw Filmaker/freelance videographer Mark Williams on a video project for the Mississippi Band of Choctaw that is documenting her time at Arkansas.
She embraces her status and a role model to youth from her area.
“I like it when the younger generation reaches out to me,” Keats said in a trailer for the project. “It just shows their support and they ask what they can do because I was once that person asking somebody what they did to get where they was. So I kind of like it.
“Coming from a small reservation, I’ve always had a lot of big city dreams. It was a big transition because I was from a small tribe.”
Keats’ best game as a Razorback was a 14-point effort in a 77-36 win over Little Rock.
“What I bring to the team is the ability to shoot, I compete all the time and I run the floor and do what I am supposed to do after being asked,” Keats said.
Keats knocked down four 3-pointers in the second half and scored 11 points while hitting a trio in fourth quarter alone.
“Once one goes in, it is like I just have to heat check it,” Keats said. “So I am just kept on shooting and my confidence was good.
Keats averaged 14.2 points and four assists per game her senior season while leading her Neshoba Central High School team a perfect 33-0 mark and the 2021 Mississippi 5A state championship.
Her next stop Ellisvile (Miss.) Jones College, where current Arkansas assistant Pauline Love was a Hall of Fame player and ended up recruiting Keats for the Razorbacks.
Keats started 28 of Jones’ 30 games last season while averaging 9.7 points, 3.7 rebounds and 3.5 assists per contest for a team that finished 26-4 and reached the NJCAA Elite Eight.
“I had a few offers, but they were’t like the SEC or ACC or Big Ten,” Keats said. “I just went to juco first and then Arkansas offered and I was real impressed and just picked it up right off the bat.”
Keats was guided by then Jones head coach Missy Bilderback, who took the head coaching job at the University of Louisiana-Monroe, a program Arkansas beat 81-76 to open this season.
“Coach Bilderback help and kind of walked me through the process,” Keats said. “ We watched games from here and their style of play was great for me. They have the right freedom and they just create space fore everybody. They like to shoot here. That’s what I like.”
Keats is part of a strong backcourt group along with veterans Makayla Daniels and Samara Spencer and high-scoring freshman Taliah Scott, who are combining to average 55 points a contest.
Scott is averaging 26.5 points per game and had a career-high 34 in Friday’s 82-67 win at Arkansas State.
“It is competitive and it gets heated some times, but it is just part of the game and we learn from each other,” Keats said.
“I think everybody is good on this team. We got newcomers in that are really good. The ones who came back are really good, too. We all compete and this team is very good.”
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UCA had to postpone its Saturday home game with Northwestern State due to health related issues with the visitors.
That game has been moved to December 20 at 2:30 p.m as part of a doubleheader with the men’s team facing Western Illinois.
UCA has home wins over Hendrix (85-25) and the University of Tennessee (56-45) sandwiched around a loss at Samford (65-62) so far this season under first-year head coach Tony Kemper.
Arkansas is 3-0 against UCA all-time with all the games being played in Fayetteville in the last three seasons.
The Razorbacks won 105-58 in 2020, 82-34 in 2021 and 82-44 and 72-34 last season.
Jade Upshaw is averaging 11.3 points and fellow guards Randrea Wright 11.0 and Leah Mafua 10.0 per game to lead the Bears.
Photo by John D. James