FAYETTEVILLE – Thirteenth-seeded Wright State came out with the right stuff to upset fourth-seeded Arkansas, 66-62 in Monday’s first round of the NCAA Women’s Basketball Tournament at the University of Texas’ Frank Erwin Center in Austin.
With the physically intense “defense and rebounding” that Wright State Coach Katrina Merriweather stressed, the Horizon Leauge champion Raiders frustrated the 3-point shooting Razorbacks of the SEC to a 7 for 22 from three shooting afternoon while gathering the misses to outrebound Arkansas 44-30.
Despite ample opportunities, the Razorbacks mustered but one offensive rebound at half.
In the meantime the Razorbacks had a devil of a time offensively and defensively against Angel Baker, the Dayton, Ohio based Raiders’ star guard double-doubling with 26 points and 12 rebounds.
Arkansas, staying in the game on the free throw line against the aggressive Raiders,, 21 of 28 led Chelsea Dungee’s 14 of 18 while scoring a game-leading 27 points, trailed 38-26 at half and the entire second half until a Dungee trey with 1:50 left in the game put Arkansas up, 59-58 increased rte 60-58 with Dungee hitting one of two free throws at 1:32.
Wright State seldom-used senior reserve Alexis Stover and Baker hit key threes to retake the lead, 64-62 and shoot free throws after Amber Ramirez missed Arkansas’ last shot with the outcome still hanging with 12 seconds left.
Arkansas concludes with a disappointing end to what still will be recalled as a banner 19-9 season. The Razorbacks posted nonconference wins over national powers UConn and Baylor and logged a 9-6 SEC campaign though the season’s close first soured with an upset loss to Ole Miss at the SEC Tournament.
Arkansas Coach Mike Neighbors shouldered the blame.
“I did a real poor job the last three weeks,” Neighbors said. “I think we peaked too early. I asked so much of our kids in the middle part of the year trying to get to this point that I forgot to focus on the finish line and not having a better plan for this game and going into the SEC Tournament. But all that said Wright State was clearly the better team from tip to buzzer. They put the ball in Baker’s hands and let her make us wrong which she did a whole bunch. You can’t get outshot and outrebounded and have 15 turnovers. Just complete domination by Wright State. Congrats to them.”
Neighbors from the get go respected the Horizon League regular season and conference tournament championships that Merriweather’s Raiders achieved.
“I did not like the matchup from the moment I saw it come across,” Neighbors said. “You always are hesitant playing a team with a trophy with a net on it. They played like a team that’s used to winning.”
And with a game plan that limited Arkansas to 17 of 52 shooting from the field.
“We ended the season with Ole Miss and Wright State with two very well prepared defenses that weren’t going to allow us to get to the foul line and make threes,” Neighbors said. “They took one of those (the threes) away from us.”
Aside from Dungee averaging 22.3 points, Razorbacks Ramirez, Destiny Slocum and Makayla Daniels all entered the game averaging double figures scoring.
Only Daniels, 11 points, cracked double-digits as Ramiez, nine points, and Slocum two points shot a combined, 2 for 13 on threes.
“I thought when we got down we rushed some shots,” Neighbors said.
Senior Dungee took it hard exiting in Round One of the tournament this team had been striving for as Arkansas’ first NCAA Tournament team since 2015 and was denied last season’s 24-8 team and all teams in last year’s mid March all college sports covid shutdown.
“We’ve had hour and a half practices since we’ve been here shooting the ball well,” Ramirez, a 3-year lettering transferring from the University of Oklahoma said. “Today they just didn’t fall. They just played better than us today. We rely on shooting the ball well and that just didn’t happen for us today. We had a great year and won some big games. We expected a different outcome from this tournament but I am just grateful to Coach Neighbors that I could play for the University of Arkansas.”