Razorbacks ready to roll without key players

By: Seth Campbell
Published: Thursday, November 7, 2019
Arkansas coach Mike Neighbors directs his players against Pittsburg State Thursday, Oct. 24, 2019, during the second half of play in Bud Walton Arena.
Photo by Andy Shupe
Arkansas coach Mike Neighbors directs his players against Pittsburg State Thursday, Oct. 24, 2019, during the second half of play in Bud Walton Arena.

For most, 10:30 on a Friday morning means work and wishing for the weekend.

For the Arkansas women's basketball team, it means the official start to its season.

The Razorbacks' morning tip time against New Orleans is unique, but it gives a mass of young fans an opportunity to see the team, and ingest some sugar along the way.

"At first they're excited to be out of school on a Friday," Arkansas coach Mike Neighbors said. "Then they're excited to get cotton candy and sodas. Then they're excited for the games."

The Arkansas crowd will largely consist of elementary school children, who get out of school to watch the game. It's a large and energetic group, but for Neighbors it's about more than the energy the elementary students bring.

"It gives us a chance to remind our kids that there are always little eyes watching them," Neighbors said. "There will be 5,000 sets of them watching them and I think it's a good reminder for our kids to see all of that, plus it's a good way to kick the season off."

Arkansas will be without a few key players in its season opener Friday. Senior forward Kiarra Williams and freshman center Destinee Oberg are out with undisclosed injures.

"We're a little banged up," Neighbors said. "Had a day off (Tuesday) and had a couple of kids that couldn't handle a day off." When asked further about the injuries Neighbors said he didn't know yet, but said they could be longterm. 

When asked about his game plan without his two post players Neighbors jokingly said, "Punt." 

While there shouldn't be any basketballs punted during the game, Neighbors did say the Razorbacks will have to change some schemes.

"We'll probably play a little faster," he said. "We'll have to play some zone defense. We'll see how it goes."

With Williams and Oberg out, the Razorbacks will have five forwards available, but only two with game experience. 

The Razorbacks already had one key player out with an injury. Senior guard Jailyn Mason has been out with a foot injury after she tore a tendon during preseason practice. Mason has made progress. Neighbors said she is out of the boot and can put some weight on her foot.

"It's kind of a pain thing to see where we go there," Neighbors said.  "We weren't anticipating it this early in the year anyway so we can focus on the other kids, but hers is still a couple weeks out before we even really take another look at it."

The Privateers have already played a game this year, losing to LSU 83-49 on Tuesday. Neighbors said New Orleans having already played will give the Privateers and edge, but he thinks the Razorbacks' exhibition victories over Oklahoma City and Pittsburg State prepared them for the season.

"We got tested and we got exposed in a lot of areas so it was good," he said. "Exactly what we hoped for." 

New Orleans is led by two seniors, guard Rehema Franklin and forward Asia Woods. The two seniors scored 15 and 13 points, respectively, against LSU, but it wasn't enough to keep the Privateers in the game. 

The New Orleans game is the first of a five-game home stand for Neighbors' team. The Razorbacks' next game will be Monday against McNeese State at 7 p.m.

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