Nate Allen Sports
FAYETTEVILLE – Arkansas’ 43-38 halftime lead over Georgia disappeared during the third quarter and so did the Razorbacks’ four-game winning streak in SEC women’s basketball.
Georgia’s 24-12 third quarter carried the Bulldogs to an 80-72 SEC victory over Arkansas Thursday night at Walton Arena.
Arkansas wrought a valiant 2-women offensive effort from Chelsea Dungee’s game-high 28 points and Malica Monk’s 19, but they couldn’t overcome Georgia’s superior size and strength, outrebounding Arkansas, 44-28, and wearing the Razorbacks down in the second half.
Monk, Arkansas’ shortest player at 5-5, proved its biggest rebounder with six.
Georgia’s Caliya Robinson, towering above the Razorbacks at 6-3, posted nine rebounds with her nine points and 5-10 guard Taja Cole, playing all 40 minutes, double-doubled with 12 points and nine boards.
Guard Gabby Connally dazzled leading Georgia with 21 points and eight assists while Georgia 5-11 guard Maya Caldwell scored 12.
The loss drops Arkansas to 16-6, 5-3 in the SEC heading into Sunday’s 4 p.m. SEC Network televised game at Walton against the nationally No. 16 South Carolina Gamecocks, 15-5 and second in the SEC at 7-1.
Coach Joni Taylor’s Georgia Bulldogs, 13-8, in the SEC, are 4-4 in the SEC and thus still below Arkansas in the current standing.
Nevertheless Arkansas Coach Mike Neighbors forewarned his Razorbacks and their fans that Georgia is significantly better than the Vanderbilt, Tennessee, Alabama and Florida teams that that Razorbacks defeated for their 4-game winning streak plus Ole Miss, beaten by Arkansas at Oxford, Miss. in the SEC season’s second game.
“We’re realistic,” Neighbors said. “We’ve all said, our five wins were against the teams that were at the bottom of the league. This Georgia team is not at the bottom of the league. We’re not going to start beating ourselves up for not beating a team that nobody expected us to beat in the preseason. And just because we’ve played well the last few weeks I don’t know that you get any bonus points.”
He was disappointed that after rallying from down eight at 5:38 of the second quarter to enter intermission up 43-38 how fast things went south in the third quarter.
“Georgia came out in the third quarter with way more focus than we did,” Neighbors said. “I thought we had good energy in the locker room. We talked about how awesome we moved the ball in the second quarter and everyone rallied and cheered and then we came ut in the third quarter and didn’t do it. I still thought we had a chance to make a run in the third and fourth quarter but we didn’t. Georgia ran with us just fine and look fresher at the end of the game then we did.That hasn’t been the case many times but they did it.”
Of Georgia’s dominant third quarter, Bulldogs Coach Joni Taylor said, “We limited their opportunities to run. Arkansas is a really good team and if you let them run they are tough to guard. In the first half they ran us but in the third quarter we got them into a halfcourt game and then we were able to get the ball inside.”
Arkansas didn’t lose without a fight and did cut the Georgia lead to 69-66 with 2:47 left and down to four points with 47 second and 21 seconds left but couldn’t come up with the stop or the shot for a run to tie it.
Still Monk and particularly Dungee stood out, especially from the free throw line. Monk need her 7 of 8 from the line to score 19 on a night she shot 5 of 15 from the field and dished six assists, though also committing six turnovers in her full tilt 39 minutes.
Dungee hit 9 of 18 from the field, including 2 of 4 treys, and 8 for 8 from the line for her 28 points.
Dungee and Monk so impressed Taylor that even with Thursday’s triumph in Fayetteville she professed dreading to see them again for the Arkansas vs. Georgia rematch Feb. 21 in Athens, Ga.
“They are incredible,” Taylor said. “I haven’t slept all week long figuring out how we are going to guard them. And we’ll do the same thing when they come to Arkansas. They are great players and have done a really good job buying into Mike’s system. You at Monk (a senior from North Little Rock). She wasn’t shooting the three like that when she first came to Arkansas. It’s a credit to her and the coach’s developing her. And Dungee (the sophomore transfer from Oklahoma) is just a tough matchup.”
Neighbors approves how the two have meshed in their first and only season together since Dungee had to redshirt last season transferring from the Sooners.
“I really like how her (Dungee, whom he was asked about first) and Mal are playing together and I wouldn’t have said that earlier in the season,” Neighbors said. “Chelsea found her a couple of times and Mal found her. Chelsea’s play has been all-Conference-ish for her first eight games in the SEC.”
The two needed more offensive help than they got Thursday. Junior guard Alexis Tolefree of Conway, averaging 11. 1 points, scored five Thursday playing only 13 minutes while committing three turnovers.
So junior guard Raven Baker-Northcross of Malvern logged 18 minutes off the bench and scored five points with a three rebounds and one turnover.
“I didn’t think she (Tolefree) responded very well and I thought Raven did,” Neighbors said. “So Raven got those minutes tonight. Hopefully she (Tolefree) will bounce back. She’s been playing fine but tonight there were some turnovers and missed defensive assignments and I thought Raven had given us a better punch so we stuck with her.”
Nate Allen Sports