Energized Razorbacks look to eliminate Red Raiders

By Dudley E. Dawson
on 2023-03-22 17:40 PM


Arkansas’ women’s basketball team vowed to be in it to win it when it accepted a bid to the WNIT despite being disappointed to not invited be the NCAA Tournament.

The Razorbacks (23-12) can get halfway to doing that Friday night at 7 p.m. if they can Texas Tech (20-14) in what the tournament calls a a “Super 16” match up of old Southwest Conference foes.

Arkansas head coach Mike Neighbors has been understandably pleased with his team’s reaction while routing Louisiana Tech 69-47 and Stephen F. Austin 60-37 in its quest to win six and win the WNIT.

“They have answered that question and I am proud of them for doing it because not every team has,” Neighbors said. “Look across the WNIT bracket and there were probably some teams that didn’t have what our team has and that’s a desire to keep playing.”

It is what he expected after watching the reaction of his players as they were leaving his house after being left out of the Big Dance by possibly being a win shy.

“I wasn’t worried about our particular team, I was just worried about it as a generality,” Neighbors said of his team that was a game under .500 in SEC action.

“I thought when our kids walked out my house that night after we didn’t get in..I said ‘hey, they want to play.’ You could just tell form their reaction. They wanted to play. I was confident in our team.”

Arkansas is also playing with a bit of a chip on its shoulder after four SEC programs made it to the NCAA Tournament’s 16 and three more came close to doing so.

“It pisses you off,” Neighbors said. “I’m not going to tell you it doesn’t.  We knew, and everybody’s got league allegiance. I knew that, but when you have got the team’s that are in our league…now that they are advancing.

“…And I am telling you right now that Georgia had every opportunity to be the fifth and Alabama was right there with them against Baylor as well. Mississippi State – I mean every team got in did well.”

The adversity will likely be a learning lesson per Neighbors.

“It makes you mad, it makes you frustrated, but there’s nothing that you can do about it so it inspires you to make sure this time next year that we hit every thing that we need to hit during the summer and during the preseason that could be the difference,” Neighbors said.

“I do know that our team knows that if we could have gotten the right draw in the other tournament that we cold be sitting there, too. So it is one of those pains that changes you a little bit.”

Neighbors has tried to make it fun for his team during a time that their classmates are all on spring break.

“…They have given us plenty of effort and they are not upset about not being on spring break,” Neighbors said. “We had a fun day yesterday. We went and had lunch together at Walk On’s and saw the new Woody Harrelson movie Champions.

“So we are trying to do as many spring break things as we can.”

Arkansas will be facing a different kind of challenge from   the Red Raiders, who have downed UTEP 67-54 and SMU 61-59.

“Lot of depth, could play as many as 12 or 13 kids in a tight game, hoickey line changes -  at times there will be 5 for 5 (subs),” Neighbors said. “We are going to have to be really good on the bench and make sure we have got our match-ups right. That can lead to confusion.

“A lot of different individual pieces gives them a lot of different ways to play. They play five or six different defenses. They may press with one line up, play zone and then back to man.

“I just call it trying to steal your package time…They make you work on everything. You need to have a zone in bounds play and a man in bounds play, an action for the full court press and they even run some box and one, which you don’t see a lot at the collegiate level.”

Arkansas went 7-9 in SEC action while Texas Tech was 6-12 in the Big 12.

“You see a team that resembles us a lot,” Neighbors said.  “You see a team that went through a rugged league, went through the Big 12, and now that they are not playing Big 12 opponents, they are gaining some confidence. Gaining some confidence like ‘we can guard some people and make more shots.’

“Their ruggedness and their experience of playing at a high level has shown up as to why they have advanced two games as well.”

Neighbors doesn’t expect Texas Tech to be in awe as were Arkansas’ first two WNIT opponents.

“I think you have got a confident team, a talented team, veteran team with a lot of kids with a lot of experience,” Neighbors said of LSU. “We will lose any point value on the kids walking into Bud Walton Arena and going ‘oh, my gosh look at this place’ that we kind of got with La Tech and Stephen F. Austin.

“I saw online their kids talking pictures of our arena because they had not played in a place like that. Well, Texas Tech plays in one every day, they practice in one every day. They are not going to walk in here with any intimidation factor whatsoever.”

He is hoping that a large crowd will still give his squad a home court advantage.

“That will come down to our fans, which have been great,” Neighbors said. “Our two crowds at home have been great. Hopefully we will get a little bit of home court advantage even if it is not as much as we have had.”

Photo by John D. James

(Last updated: 2023-03-22 17:40 PM)