Paul Boyd is a sports reporter for the Northwest Arkansas Democrat-Gazette. He was voted Arkansas Sportswriter of the Year in 2018.
Razorbacks focused after humbling
Arkansas coach Mike Neighbors is shown during a game against Oral Roberts on Wednesday, Nov. 25, 2020, in Fayetteville.
FAYETTEVILLE — University of Arkansas women’s basketball Coach Mike Neighbors doesn’t believe his team will look past Louisiana-Monroe tonight before Sunday’s home game against No. 4 Baylor.
Not after then-No. 12 Maryland put a 115-96 thumping on the Razorbacks to close play in the Gulf Coast Showcase last Sunday.
“If we hadn’t got our butts handed to us, it probably would have been [easy to look ahead],” said Neighbors, whose team slipped two spots to No. 16 in this week’s Associated Press poll. “If we had probably won that game, yeah, focus would have been a concern looking forward to the Baylor game.”
Arkansas will take on the Warhawks of the Sun Belt Conference at 5:30 tonight in Walton Arena.
It would be easy to peek past ULM, whose season opener is tonight. The Warhawks have eight newcomers (seven freshmen) coming off a 3-26 season.
The Razorbacks’ focus will be internally after playing four games in five days to begin the season, Neighbors said. The team had little time to watch film or assess its performance last weekend because of the condensed schedule. Neighbors said they took some time to do that this week.
“This group has always been blessed with a little bit of self-awareness of what everything means and what it doesn’t mean sometimes,” Neighbors said. “And it stung to lose the way we lost, but it didn’t linger. It didn’t carry over to the plane ride. It’s helped us.
“I think we learn from our wins, but you always learn a little bit more from your losses. I think you’ll see the most focused team yet on Thursday.”
The Razorbacks registered a school-record 37 points in the third quarter to defeat Wake Forest on Friday, then rallied from a nine-point deficit in the fourth quarter to take down Florida Gulf Coast on Saturday in the first two games of the Showcase.
Senior Chelsea Dungee leads four players who are in double figures. The 5-11 guard from Sapulpa, Okla., averages 19.3 points per game. Sophomore Makayla Daniels is next at 17.0, followed by guard Destiny Slocum with 16.5 and Amber Ramirez at 10.3.
Erynn Barnum, a 6-2 sophomore, is averaging 9.8 points, 4.5 rebounds and more than 1 blocked shot in 15.5 minutes.
Players are still learning how they fit, especially someone like Slocum, a graduate transfer. Neighbors talked to her about being more aggressive at times.
“It’s new for Destiny,” he said. “She’s trying to fit in on a team with great players. And these guys are trying to help her fit in.”
He also pointed out that Dungee turned down a wide-open three-point shot against Maryland after she had missed her last one.
“Y’all ever seen that happen?” Neighbors asked. “I said, ‘What in the world are you doing?’ We created a wide-open catch and shoot, which by the way she nailed — that’s the game-winning shot against Florida Gulf Coast.”
The Razorbacks were noticeably worn down against the Terrapins, Neighbors said. But he also said this team wants to be challenged.
“They appreciate doing hard things,” Neighbors said. “We’re asking them to do something incredibly hard under incredibly hard circumstances. But I don’t think this group would have appreciated us had we not.
“It’s not gonna be perfect. It’s not gonna be, ya know, puppy dogs and rainbows and unicorns every single day here. There’s going to be some hard moments. That’s going to make us better for it, I think.”
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