Paul Boyd is a sports reporter for the Northwest Arkansas Democrat-Gazette. He was voted Arkansas Sportswriter of the Year in 2018.
SEC WOMEN’S BASKETBALL:
Texas A&M too much in paint for Razorbacks
Arkansas forward Kiara Williams (left) and Texas A&M center Ciera Johnson (right) dive for a loose ball during a game Thursday, Jan. 2, 2020, in Fayetteville.
FAYETTEVILLE -- No. 11 Texas A&M started hot and held off every University of Arkansas charge to claim an 84-77 victory in the SEC opener for both teams Thursday night in front of 4,243 at Walton Arena.
Chennedy Carter poured in a game-high 28 points, and the Aggies outrebounded No. 20 Arkansas 45-29.
Arkansas women's Coach Mike Neighbors said the combination of 6-2 N'Dea Jones and 6-4 Ciera Johnson made the difference. They combined for 33 points and 24 rebounds.
"Game-changing. That's pretty much game-changing," Neighbors said of the Aggies' inside duo. "I thought at times our first-shot defense was pretty good, especially when we went to the man. They were really prepared for us to be in zone, and that first quarter was just a punch in the mouth.
"It was kind of a punch in the mouth, but I thought we responded. We talked about wanting to know where we're at. I think we know now. It was the size and their skill. I'm not gonna be the guy that sits up here and says, 'Oh, they're bigger than us.' Those guys are good."
The Razorbacks (12-2), which trailed by as many as 12, pulled within 80-77 on two free throws by Chelsea Dungee with 22.9 seconds left. But the Aggies' Shambria Washington hit 1 of 2 free throws, and Amber Ramirez air balled a three-pointer for the Razorbacks.
Texas A&M then made 4 of 6 foul shots in the final 21 seconds to put the game away.
Texas A&M Coach Gary Blair said both teams played well, but the Aggies' strength of schedule helped get the win.
"I thought we played an IQ game," Blair said. "When you have an IQ game and both teams -- nine turnovers, 11 turnovers -- that was good basketball. That's why there was 4,000 or whatever you had in the stands.
"My schedule prepared us for this. We're ninth in the RPI not because of 12-1, but we have faced every combination, every triangle-and-two, every box-and-one. We found a way."
Arkansas tied the game at 61-61 on freshman Makayla Daniels' driving layup with more than six minutes left in the fourth quarter, but Texas A&M responded. Carter scored off a nice cut, and Kayla Wells hit two free throws for a 65-61 advantage with 5:42 left.
The Razorbacks fought back early in the fourth quarter, aided by nice work on the boards. Rokia Doumbia rebounded a Dungee missed free throw and flipped it back to the redshirt junior for a basket to get to 58-57.
Dungee led Arkansas with 20 points before fouling out in the final minute. She made just 8 of 22 shots from the floor and 1 of 7 from three-point range, but scored 16 in the second half.
Alexis Tolefree added 18 for the Razorbacks on six three-pointers, while Ramirez had 14 and Kiara Williams 11 off the bench.
Jones finished with a monster game of 22 points and 14 rebounds for the Aggies, while Kayla Wells added 15 and Johnson chipped in 11 points and 10 rebounds. Washington also dished out eight assists with just one turnover.
Arkansas used a 10-2 spurt to pull within 50-49 in the third quarter, but Wells drilled a three-pointer and Carter scored on a runout after an Arkansas miss to push the lead back to six with 2:43 left in the third quarter.
Blair, who spent 10 seasons at Arkansas, improved to 13-4 against the Razorbacks and 5-1 against Neighbors, his former assistant.
The Aggies got off to a red-hot start, making 8 of their first 11 shots to grab a 20-10 advantage. Carter keyed the surge with 13 points. The 5-7 junior All-American made 3 three-pointers in the run.
Arkansas got within five on a three-pointer by Tolefree, but the Aggies responded with six consecutive points, capped by Carter's driving layup for a 39-28 lead.
Texas A&M led 44-32 at halftime. The Aggies enjoyed a 22-13 lead on the boards and 26-10 advantage for points in the paint in the first half.
Sports on 01/03/2020
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