By Nate Allen Sports
FAYETTEVILLE – Usually these Arkansas Razorbacks women about need Chelsea Dungee like all of us need air.
However on Sunday they didn’t need their superstar’s mere three first-half points to turn the University of Alabama-Birmingham Blazers into a breather. The Razorbacks dominated a 52-22 first en route to a 100-52 second-round Women’s National Invitational rout before 3,939 at Walton Arena whose enthusiasm, Arkansas Coach Mike Neighbors called “unbelievably supportive” and “absolutely propelled us into a no-way you could ever see that coming performance against UAB,” after rooting the Razorbacks home in last Thursday’s 88-80 WNIT first-round victory over Houston at Walton. Neighbors’ 22-14 Razorbacks of the SEC advance to the WNIT third round at 7 p.m. Thursday at Walton hosting the 22-10 TCU Horned Frogs of the Big 12. TCU was a 71-54 second-round victor Saturday at home in Fort Worth over Texas-Arlington after last week routing Prairie View, 72-41 in its first round game at Forth Worth.
UAB, the Conference USA runner-up, ignominiously finished an otherwise outstanding 26-7 season because it “ran into a buzzsaw, Blazers Coach Randy Thornton said.
“Wow! Thornton opened his postgame press conference. Arkansas played extremely well today. They shot lights out! (37 of 72 from the field including 15 of 30 3-pointers). We just got outplayed and they had their crowd got behind them. They had it going on today. One game isn’t going to define our season or our team. We just ran into a buzzsaw.”
A buzzsaw that Neighbors thought perhaps couldn’t improve from its SEC Tournament upset victories in Greenville, S.C. over Georgia, and nationally ranked South Carolina and Texas A&M but did.
“That’s the best we’ve played,” Neighbors said.
Arkansas hitting 20 of 40 from the field including 9 of 16 threes to UAB’s 9 of 33 from the field and 0 of 10 tried treys told the Razorbacks’ 52-22 halftime story.
But the rest of the story was doing it with so little from Dungee. She scored just one when Arkansas overcame UAB’s one and only lead, 6-5, for the Razorbacks finishing the 10-minute first quarter up, 26-10.
The Razorbacks never would have made it to Sunday’s second round without Dungee scoring 37 in Thursday’s first-round victory over Houston at Walton. That came after her 31, 31, 15 point tear through Georgia, South Carolina and Texas A&M in the SEC Tournament and 24 in the SEC Tourney championship loss to Mississippi State.
Dungee scored a peak 41 during a SEC regular season loss to Auburn.
With junior guard Alexis Tolefree of Conway scoring 14 first-half points with 4 of 5 threes, junior guard Jailyn Mason, scoring 11 with 3 of 4 threes, and senior point guard Malica Monk of North Little Rock scoring 10 with 1 of 3 threes, superstar Dungee Sunday could weather a 1 for 6 half without consequence.
“We call it pride rule trying to take her out of the game,” Thornton said of the first-half defense designed to thwart Dungee. “She’s such a great player, but what a great job by her teammates to step up and knock down shots when she wasn’t scoring. That’s the sign of a good team playing its best basketball.”
And of a superstar knowing it’s not her time all the time, Neighbors said.
“Their game plan was 10 eyes on her,” Neighbors said. “So she didn’t do what so many people that are used to scoring do. She didn’t force a lot of shots. She let the game come to her and got everybody involved and everybody was ready.”
Still, could he and Tolefree imagine leading by 30 at half with just three from Dungee?
“Not lately,” both said.
“Mal got us off to a great start,” Neighbors said. “And Alexis, I drew up that one play and told her if she didn’t shoot it she’s coming out. You want to double team Chelsea and flood the lane against her? Here’s what can happen.”
Dungee got into the swing of it with a 10-point third quarter then sat. Neighbors cleared the bench from the fourth-quarter’s outset.
For the game, Tolefree’s 17 points , including 5 of 6 threes, led Arkansas augmented by a game-leading eight rebounds. Monk scored , 15, and Dungee, 13, with Mason and senior reserve forward Bailey Zimmerman of St. Vincent each scoring 11 while junior center Kiara Williams of Little Rock Central, scored eight inside with seven boards, a blocked shot and a steal.
UAB’s Katelynn Thomas led all scorers with 20 points.
The Blazers arrived with a blazing reputation for 3-point shooting but were rushed to making just 3 for 24 treys total after their zip for 10 first half.
“Coach emphasized how hard we had to play on defense,” Tolefree said. “And it all started on the defensive end and it fed into our offense.”
Neighbors said, “Anytime your girl was screening you had to be in the lane. That disrupted them and we tried to speed them up. If you let UAB execute their stuff, you’d better hope they miss. They obviously (to be 26-7) don’t miss often, but today we made them have to move their feet a little bit quicker.”
And kept the Razorbacks moving Thursday night to Round Three at Walton.
By Nate Allen Sports