By Nate Allen
FAYETTEVILLE – Scoring 38 points, Chelsea Dungee overcame and then some Arkansas’ beleaguered beginning and propelled the Razorbacks women to a 90-73 SEC victory over the Missouri Tigers Sunday afternoon before 4,172 at Walton Arena.
The Razorbacks had lost seven consecutive games to Missouri in their annual 2-game home and home SEC series. Arkansas started down that road again Sunday missing its first 10 shots.
Dungee righted that ship scoring 17 first half points turning a 22-14 first-quarter disadvantage for a 34-30 intermission lead. She scored 21 during thoroughly Arkansas dominated second half as Arkansas senior guard Alexis Tolefree of Conway finished with 13 points while center Taylah Thomas double-doubled with 10 points and 11 rebounds.
The victory boosts coach Mike Neighbors’ nationally No. 21 ranked Razorbacks to 14-3 overall and 2-2 in the SEC heading into their next SEC game next Sunday at Vanderbilt.
Coach Robin Pingeton’s Tigers, 4-13, 1-3, next host nationally No. 4 defending SEC champion South Carolina Thursday in Columbia, Mo.
Freshmen Hayley Frank, 19 points, and Aijha Blackwell, 18, led Missouri but combined still were one point shy of Dungee.
Senior guard Amber Smith, Mizzou’s leading scorer entering the game, fell into early foul trouble and only scored eight Sunday.
Junior Preseason All-SEC guard Dungee missed an unfathomable first 11 shots in Arkansas’ 91-82 loss last Thursday at South Carolina and struggled early with the rest of the Razorbacks Sunday.
Both Neighbors and Pingeton knew Dungee’s struggles wouldn’t last consecutive games.
“Even when she missed her first couple of shots she had that Chelsea look that I’m going to take over and it just kept snowballing,” Neighbors said.
“She set the tone that we were going to be tough and everyone else kind of followed suit.”
Pingeton saw and heard it coming.
“I heard them saying, ‘Nobody can stop Chelsea – get the ball to Chelsea.” Pingeton said of Dungee going 12 of 23 from the field including 4 of 8 treys while sinking 10 of 15 free throws and grabbing seven rebounds and dishing two assists.
Taylah Thomas said, “When you you’ve got a mismatch like that it’s no time to be selfish. So you do what it takes to get her open.”
That’s what good teams do, Pingeton said. “You know you’ve got a special squad when they recognize a tough matchup,” Pingeton said. “Chelsea is just a phenomenal player.”
Too phenomenal to be discounted even with an Arkansas start that Neighbors called “horrific.”
“SEC basketball is a 40-minute game,” Pingeton said. “I’m not surprised Arkansas did what they did. They are a well-coached team and have some great players.” Dungee said her struggles against South Carolina weighed on her these last couple of days.
“Just seeing the ball go through the basket helped a lot,” Dungee said. “I definitely found my shot this game and team wise defensively we were tuned in.”
Noting how physical Pingeton’s Razorbacks always play and Arkansas’ previous 1-2 SEC plight, Neighbors said. “This was a much needed win. No game is bigger than the other in this league but there are some that are more important. When you open 1-2 and have a home game it’s really important.”
Especially when you have a seven-games score to settle.
Though players and coaches inevitably claim past games don’t make the next game, shaking Mizzou’s mastery was an Arkansas incentive Sunday.
“We definitely came into this game with a chip on our shoulder,” Dungee, who got a late game technical foul in a very physical game, said. “Being able to perform for our home crowd was really fun.”
Neighbors remarked, “There’s not kid in that locker room other than (transfer) A’Tyanna Gaulden who had beaten Missouri. And she was at Florida State then so that didn’t really count. They had our number so it’s good to know you can stand up and can win. It will be hard at their place (the Feb. 2 rematch in Columbia, Mo.).”
Arkansas was 1, with Dungee connecting for two at 5:09 of the first quarter for its first 17 shots from the field. The Razorbacks were 0 for 6 threes before Amber Ramirez’s trey at 9:04 of the second quarter.
By then Arkansas had cut Mizzou’s 20-10 lead to 22-19.
A Dungee fed Makayla Daniels basket gave Arkansas its first tie, 24-24. Ramirez with a two and Dungee with a deuce and a trey increased the run to 31-24.
Dungee’s field goal and-one peaked the first half lead at 34-26 but Mizzou’s Haley Frank, 12 points in the first half, tallied the half’s last two baskets pulling the Tigers to close intermission down 34-30.
Inducing 11 Mizzou first-half turnovers while committing only four enabled Arkansas to outscore the Tigers, 10-2 on first-half miscues.
For the game Arkansas outscored Mizzou, 19-7 on turnovers.