Dance misses step; UA women now wait on their fate

By: PAUL MARTIN Special to the Democrat-Gazette
Published: Monday, March 11, 2019
Arkansas's Chelsea Dungee, center, tries to grab a rebound while defended by Mississippi State's Teaira McCown, back, and Jordan Danberry, right, during the first half of an NCAA college basketball championship game in the Southeastern Conference women's tournament, Sunday, March 10, 2019, in Greenville, S.C. (AP Photo/Richard Shiro)
Arkansas's Chelsea Dungee, center, tries to grab a rebound while defended by Mississippi State's Teaira McCown, back, and Jordan Danberry, right, during the first half of an NCAA college basketball championship game in the Southeastern Conference women's tournament, Sunday, March 10, 2019, in Greenville, S.C. (AP Photo/Richard Shiro)

GREENVILLE, S.C. -- There would be no improbable comeback to cap the University of Arkansas women's basketball team's unexpected run through the SEC Tournament.

The No. 10 seed Razorbacks -- which came back from a 17-2 deficit Saturday to knock off No. 15 Texas A&M in the semifinals -- got off to another slow start Sunday, and No. 5 Mississippi State cruised to a 101-70 victory at Bon Secours Wellness Arena in Greenville, S.C., in the championship game.

Without securing the SEC's automatic bid into the NCAA Tournament, the Razorbacks will have to wait a week to find out where -- and in what tournament -- they will play next.

"If that's not an NCAA Tournament team, I don't know what is," Mississippi State Coach Vic Schaefer said.

The top-seeded Bulldogs shot 72 percent in the first half by moving the ball to and through SEC Player of the Year Teaira McCowan, who was named the tournament's MVP. McCowan had 18 of her 24 points in the first half and grabbed 14 rebounds.

The Bulldogs -- who lost the past three SEC championship games to South Carolina -- finished the first quarter on a 20-2 run, took a 54-34 lead into halftime and never looked back in winning their first tournament title.

Arkansas Coach Mike Neighbors said Saturday that it would take an all-around effort from everyone on the team to pull off the upset. On Sunday, he said that wouldn't even had been enough.

"They just played great," Neighbors said of Mississippi State (30-2). "We had no answer."

Five Bulldogs scored in double figures. Andra Espinoza-Hunter had 24 points on 8-of-11 three-point shooting, Bre'Amber Scott had 20 points off the bench, Jordan Danberry (Conway) scored 14 points and Anriel Howard added 11.

The 171 combined points were the most scored in SEC championship game history.

Mississippi State, still trying to position itself for a No. 1 seed for the NCAA Tournament, held the Razorbacks to 1-of-11 shooting during the 20-2 stretch to end the opening period.

"We were drawing stuff in the dirt literally trying to figure it out," Neighbors said. "They're just really, really hard to guard, especially when they play like they did and shoot it like they did on the perimeter."

When Arkansas double-teamed McCowan, the Bulldogs found open shooters, going 12 of 18 from three-point range.

"I don't think there's a way to guard [McCowan] if they shoot it the way they shot it," Neighbors said. "She's an impossible matchup for 95 percent of the college basketball teams out there."

Chelsea Dungee had a team-high 24 points for Arkansas and broke the SEC record for points in a single tournament with 103 in four games. She was named to the All-SEC Tournament team.

"I'm proud of our team," said Dungee, who transferred from Oklahoma after her freshman year and sat out last season per NCAA rules. "I'm proud of this senior class. They've led this team from the get-go. I'm so thankful that these guys accepted me. I'm thankful for my teammates. They're just as responsible for helping me get [the record] as I am."

Alexis Tolefree added 10 points for the Razorbacks.

Arkansas made just 4 of 16 three-pointers in the first half and shot 35 percent from the field. The Razorbacks shot 32 percent on three-pointers for the game.

Back-to-back layups by Dungee, and Tolefree's three-pointer from the corner cut the lead to 57-41 early in the third, but the Bulldogs answered with a 16-4 run later in the quarter to put the game out of reach.

Dungee's running floater from half court banked in for a three to end the third quarter for one of the few Arkansas highlights, but the Bulldogs led 79-54 going into the fourth.

The Razorbacks (20-14) went 6-10 in the SEC but won three consecutive tournament games, including two over ranked teams, to become the first double-digit seed to make it to the championship game.

"We had a four-year plan that we're going to have to erase, talking to some people that we're a year ahead," Neighbors said. "I'm OK with that, jumped a few hurdles quicker."

ESPN bracketologist Charlie Creme projected Arkansas as one of the first four out for the NCAA Tournament. The women's basketball selection show is next Monday.

Neighbors admitted NCAA Tournament consideration was not on his radar last week. The Razorbacks had lost eight of nine game heading into the SEC Tournament.

"We were talking an awful lot about the NIT," Neighbors said. "Now you change that completely. That's what the SEC is about. That's why you play in this league.

"I think our resume stacks up as well as a lot of the teams being talked about. I followed it intently for 15 years. I hadn't even gotten a folder out yet for this year until now. When I get home, it will be one of the first things I'll do.

"We're a 20-win team, won nine games within our league. We beat teams that are certainly already in the field. The narrative is going to change a lot. I haven't put a tweet out in about three months for a reason. I've been saving it. Get ready."

Sports on 03/11/2019

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