SEC WOMEN’S TOURNAMENT:

UA women refuse to fold vs. Aggies

By: PAUL MARTIN Special to the Democrat-Gazette
Published: Sunday, March 10, 2019
Arkansas' Chelsea Dungee, right, and Alexis Tolefree celebrate after defeating Texas A&M in an NCAA college basketball game in the Southeastern Conference women's tournament Saturday, March 9, 2019, in Greenville, S.C. (AP Photo/Richard Shiro)
Arkansas' Chelsea Dungee, right, and Alexis Tolefree celebrate after defeating Texas A&M in an NCAA college basketball game in the Southeastern Conference women's tournament Saturday, March 9, 2019, in Greenville, S.C. (AP Photo/Richard Shiro)

GREENVILLE, S.C. -- Down early, down late, it didn't seem to matter a bit.

The University of Arkansas women's basketball team didn't panic, and now the Razorbacks will play for their first SEC Tournament championship.

Arkansas rallied from 10 points down with just over six minutes remaining and closed the game on a 20-2 run for a 58-51 victory over No. 15 Texas A&M in the semifinals at the Bon Secours Wellness Arena in Greenville, S.C., on Saturday.

Arkansas (20-13) -- which finished 6-10 in the SEC but has won three consecutive games in three days, including twice against ranked teams -- will play top seed and No. 5-ranked Mississippi State today at 1 p.m. Central on ESPN2.

"I couldn't be more proud that it's with this group of kids," Arkansas Coach Mike Neighbors said. "We're a blended family.

"We dealt with things. We didn't back down from one challenging situation all year. A small deficit isn't anything compared to what this group has fought through and come out of on the other side."

Sophomore Chelsea Dungee, who combined for 62 points in the previous two games, started slow but finished with a team-high 17 points. Jailyn Mason added 15 for the Razorbacks.

Through three-and-a-half quarters, the Aggies (24-7) controlled the game in the low post. Ciera Johnson scored a game-high 18 points and grabbed 11 rebounds. N'dea Jones had 14 points and 14 boards as A&M led by as many as 16 in the second quarter.

Arkansas, which started 1 of 10 from three-point range and didn't attempt a free throw until the fourth quarter, didn't get closer than seven until 6:15 remained in the final period.

"We buckled down," Neighbors said. "It seemed like in the fourth quarter, we got every 50-50 ball. Then we created some we probably shouldn't have 50-50."

Down 51-41, Arkansas started hitting shots. Raven Northcross-Baker, Alexis Tolefree and Mason connected on back-to-back-to-back three-pointers in a two-minute stretch, cutting the lead to 51-50 with 4:12 left.

"They were so locked in," Neighbors said. "I think that was the difference in the end of the game and the beginning of the game."

A pair of Mason free throws gave the Razorbacks their first lead of the game at the 3:03 mark, and Dungee popped outside and connected on a three-pointer from the left wing to push the lead to 55-51 with 1:03 left.

"I thought they out-toughed us," Texas A&M Coach Gary Blair said. "They made threes down the stretch. They got the offensive rebounds on long rebounds on hustle plays. Those are the things that a championship team has to do to win, or it will cause you to lose. That's what happened to us.

"We got beat by the hottest team in the SEC, not the best team, but the hottest team. Sometimes that's all you have to be during tournament time."

Texas A&M made four of its first six shots to start the game on a 9-2 run. Dungee picked up two fouls within the first five minutes as the Aggies built a 17-2 lead.

The Razorbacks settled down later in the quarter. Dungee got her first bucket on a runner to cut the lead to 19-6, then hit a three off a screen after an A'Tyanna Gaulden steal and score as Arkansas pulled to within 19-11 to end the first quarter.

"You don't want Coach Blair to have the clipboard in his hand," Neighbors said. "If he can sit over there and draw something up, they're going to get the ball where they want it. When we were able to string together some consecutive stops, he wasn't able to call his plays over there."

Texas A&M went to the post for six consecutive points by Jones and Johnson to extend the lead to 25-11.

Later in the quarter, Northcross-Baker connected on a three from the right wing for Arkansas, and after Gaulden drained a jumper, Dungee hit her second three-pointer to make it 29-21 just before halftime.

"Arkansas better realize what they have in [Neighbors]," said Blair, a former Arkansas head coach who brought Neighbors on to his staff in 1999. "He's a special coach."

After three consecutive upset victories, Arkansas may need the biggest one yet against Mississippi State and Coach Vic Schaefer, another former Arkansas assistant.

"I've always been a believer," Dungee said. "With this group of girls, I know this is a special year. This is the year that we can accomplish so many things. This is a special group."

NO. 5 MISSISSIPPI STATE 71, MISSOURI 56

Teaira McCowan had 27 points and 16 rebounds to lead No. 5 Mississippi State into the SEC

Tournament finals for a fourth consecutive season with a victory over Missouri. Anriel Howard finished with 19 points and 10 boards as the Bulldogs (29-2) pulled away in the final two quarters to beat the only SEC opponent they’ve lost to the past two regular seasons. Mississippi State will face 10th-seeded Arkansas in the SEC Tournament championship game. Sophie Cunningham scored a season- high 33 points for Missouri (23- 10). She had five of the Tigers’ nine three-pointers before fouling out. Mississippi State lost the previous three tournament finals, all to South Carolina. The four-time defending SEC tournament champion Gamecocks were beaten by Arkansas in Friday’s quarterfinals.

Sports on 03/10/2019

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