Nate Allen Sports
FAYETTEVILLE – Between them the Arkansas Razorbacks and Missouri Tigers attempted 39 free throws in Thursday night’s SEC women’s basketball game at Walton Arena.
They made an astounding 38 of the 39. Unfortunately for Arkansas, while sinking them all, the Razorbacks only attempted a dozen while Mizzou made 26 of 27.
The free throw disparity and Mizzou’s 45-23 rebounding advantage proved too much for Arkansas to overcome as Mizzou won, 73-67.
But Coach Mike Neighbors’ Razorbacks, committing just four turnovers and forcing 21 Mizzou miscues while hitting 11 of 29 3-point attempts, certainly better accounted for themselves in the rematch with Coach Robin Pingeton’s always physical Tigers who bludgeoned Arkansas, 71-53 back on Jan. 10 at Mizzou Arena in Columbia, Mo.
Only 13-18 overall and 3-13 in the SEC last season, Neighbors first upon inheriting a program gone 2-14 in the SEC in 2016-2017, Neighbors’ Razorbacks now stand 17-13, 6-9 in the SEC going into Sunday’s final regular season game at Texas A&M and have qualified for next Thursday’s second round bye in the SEC Tournament in Greenville, S.C.
“Our kids really wanted that one badly,” Neighbors said Thursday of out to avenge getting clobbered in Columbia. “If you don’t expect a physical game against one of Robin’s teams you aren’t paying attention. So I couldn’t be happier with our kids the way they continue to be resilient losing so many close games and getting these games into the fourth quarter against teams that are going to be in the SEC Tournament.”
Mizzou certainly appears NCAA Tourney bound. The Tigers stand 20-9, 9-6 including an upset victory over 14-1 in the league SEC leader Mississippi State.
After a 24-16 Mizzou led first half when both teams shot colder from the field inside Walton (6 of 29 for Arkansas and 7 of 23 for Mizzou) than the 28-degree chill outside, the Razorbacks and Tigers sizzled in the wild second half.
Arkansas edged Mizzou 51-49 the final 20 minutes but was outscored 36-26 for the final 10 minutes fourth quarter. Missouri hit 20 of 21 second half free throws while Arkansas sunk 10 of 10 the final 20 minutes.
Down 11 upon Mizzou hitting a 3-pointer to start the third quarter, the Razorbacks rallied to lead 34-32 at 2:26 of the third quarter and closed the third quarter up 41-37.
Paced by sophomore star Chelsea Dungee’s game-high 25 points despite an 0 for 6 on 3-pointers first half during which she made just 2 of 11 shots from the field, the Razorbacks resurged with Dungee scoring 19 second-half points. Arkansas senior guard Malica Monk of North Little Rock in the second half scored 13 of her total 16 points while junior transfer guard Alexis Tolefree of Conway, 4 of 9 threes, scored all of her 14 points in the second half.
Junior guard Jailyn Mason scored 10 with five each half.
Mizzou star Sophie Cunningham double-doubled with 13 points and 12 rebounds, but while hitting 9 of 10 free throws, thus having the game’s lone misfired free even while nearly perfect, only shot 2 of 11 from the field while often defensed by Mason.
With Cunningham struggling from the field and the Tigers’ Amber Smith, 15 points and 12 rebounds against Arkansas in Columbia but only six point with her eight boards Thursday, Mizzou relied on a season high 21 points from senior Cierra Porter and a career high 16 points from Jordan Roundtree to escape Walton with a win.
Bemoaning that his Razorbacks couldn’t have scored even a little more in the first half “so we wouldn’t have had to foul as much” trying to catch Mizzou late in the game, Neighbors said better movement freed the Razorbacks for their 51 point second half.
“When you stay in one spot against them you are not going to get a good shot,” Neighbors said. “Before the game we had worked on talked about it but in the first half we didn’t do it. In the second half we did. I just hate it for our kids that we didn’t win and wish they could experience a big win for our crowd. But the second half that had to be a fun game to watch.”
While noting the “plus 17 on turnovers negated the minus 22 on the boards,” Neighbors said the 11-2 points off turnover advantage wasn’t enough.
“We needed to have more points off those turnovers,” Neighbors said. “They (Missouri) did a good job getting back and getting a wall built.”
Neighbors said the Razorbacks must regroup for another NCAA Tournament bound team, the 22-6, 11-4 Aggies of Coach Gary Blair whom Neighbors assisted during part of Blair’s tenure coaching the Lady Razorbacks.
“They beat Kentucky tonight and Coach Blair will have them pumped up,” Neighbors said. “We’ll regroup for another tough, physical matchup to wrapup and then head Tuesday to Greenville.”
Nate Allen Sports