SEC WOMEN’S TOURNAMENT:

UA women rally, reach semifinals

By: Paul Martin Special to the Democrat-Gazette
Published: Saturday, March 7, 2020
Arkansas women's basketball coach Mike Neighbors directs his team during the Razorbacks 84-77 loss to Texas A&M on Thursday, Jan. 2, 2020, in Fayetteville.
Photo by Charlie Kaijo
Arkansas women's basketball coach Mike Neighbors directs his team during the Razorbacks 84-77 loss to Texas A&M on Thursday, Jan. 2, 2020, in Fayetteville.

GREENVILLE, S.C. -- The University of Arkansas women's basketball team relived a comeback from not too long ago.

Arkansas, down 17 points in the first half, clawed its way back after halftime, took the lead late and held on in the final seconds to defeat Texas A&M 67-66 in the quarterfinals of the SEC Women's Basketball Tournament on Friday at Bon Secours Wellness Arena in Greenville, S.C.

The Razorbacks (24-7), who knocked out the Aggies after trailing 17-2 in last year's semifinals, face No. 1 South Carolina in the semifinals today at 4 p.m. Central.

Kiara Williams made two free throws with 8.6 seconds left to give the Razorbacks their first lead, and Chennedy Carter missed a fadeaway jumper in the lane as time expired for Texas A&M, setting off a celebration by the Razorbacks at half court.

"We've obviously built our program around defense wins championships," Arkansas Coach Mike Neighbors said. "A defensive stop won the game for a change. I thought for the majority of the game, it didn't look good for us. When you only lead for 8.4 seconds of the game, it's the most important part."

Makayla Daniels led Arkansas with 13 points, including seven in the first half when the Razorbacks struggled. The freshman made 3 of 4 three-pointers to keep Arkansas in the game after spotting the Aggies a 12-0 lead.

Williams had 11 points and four rebounds in 16 minutes off the bench. Chelsea Dungee and Alexis Tolefree struggled early but finished with 12 and 11 points, respectively.

Carter had a game-high 23 points, but just six in the second half, and Kayla Wells scored 19 for the Aggies. Texas A&M 6-4 center Ciera Johnson, who averaged 12 points and seven rebounds this season, hurt her ankle early in the first quarter and did not return.

After N'dea Jones' layup gave A&M (22-8) a 64-58 lead, Arkansas chipped away. Dungee drained two foul shots, then a play later stepped behind Williams' screen and drained a three-pointer to cut the lead to one. Aaliyah Wilson's spinner in the lane for A&M made it 66-63.

Amber Ramirez picked up a loose ball for the Razorbacks in the lane and finished to make it 66-65 with a minute left. With 13 seconds left, Ramirez's jumper bounced out, and Williams grabbed the rebound and was fouled by Carter to set up her game-winning free throws.

"It didn't matter who was in front of me or who was around," Williams said. "During those free throws, I remember I was thinking, 'I made all of them the whole game. These two aren't any different, yet it's big.' When we noticed that Ciera went out, that was the time that I was like, 'OK, I can score, I just need to step up.' "

A day after setting a new tournament record for made three-pointers in a game, Arkansas struggled from deep Friday by going 9 of 28 (32.1%). Tolefree and Dungee were 0 of 13 from the field with three total points in the first half, and 7 of 28 for the game.

Carter had 17 points in the first half as the Aggies held Arkansas to 23% shooting and built a 38-26 lead.

"Give Arkansas a lot of credit for not giving up," Aggies Coach Gary Blair said. "When they got real close and we got that thing right back up to six or seven points, I thought we showed a lot of grit and character and making the shots when it counted."

Dungee made her first shot to start the third quarter, a three from the right corner to make it 38-29, then Tolefree drained a three and scored on a drive to make it 40-36.

Arkansas was 7 of 12 from the field with a pair of threes, and 5 of 6 from the line in the fourth quarter to erase a 51-46 deficit.

"It clicked on defense at the right time. We knew our shots were going to fall," Williams said. "We've been in those situations many a times before."

Arkansas beat South Carolina in the quarterfinals last year, but Neighbors knows Coach Dawn Staley has a different team this season.

"They've really dominated us two times with their size," Neighbors said. "We'll try to turn it into a track meet. But the problem with doing that against them is they're pretty good at track meets, too.

"There's not a weakness they have. We'll have to be on the top of our game, hope we can catch them maybe looking past to a championship game or something. They have really established themselves as clearly one of the best teams in the country."

NO. 1 SOUTH CAROLINA 89,

GEORIGA 56

Mikiah Herbert Harrigan had 16 points and Tyasha Harris 15 as No. 1 South Carolina won its 24th consecutive game, beating Georgia.

The Gamecocks (30-1), the regular-season champs and tournament's top seed, reached the 30-win mark for fourth time in the past six seasons and beat the ninth-seeded Bulldogs (17-14) for the 12th consecutive game.

Herbert Harrigan and Harris, the last players left from the 2017 national champions, led the way.

The senior duo combined for six of the Gamecocks' first 10 points. Harris hit a three-pointer to cap a 13-3 run that made it 45-28.

Jenna Staiti led Georgia with 16 points, only two of them coming in the final two quarters.

NO. 9 MISSISSIPPI STATE 79,

LSU 49

Rickea Jackson scored 19 of her 23 points in the second half and No. 9 Mississippi State pulled away to beat LSU.

The defending conference champion Bulldogs (26-5) looked as if they might not last too long this time around, getting outhustled, missing shots and trailing the Tigers 23-16 midway through the second quarter.

But Mississippi State closed the period with an exclamation point -- Andra Espinoza-Hunter's 35-footer at the buzzer falling through to give her team a 26-25 lead going into halftime.

The Bulldogs, led by their stellar freshman Jackson and senior Jordan Danberry (Conway), kept up the surge and outscored LSU 53-24 in the final 20 minutes.

Danberry had 18 points, 12 coming the last two quarters.

Jackson, the 6-foot-2 forward averaging 14.5 points coming in, also finished with 10 rebounds, 3 assists, 2 steals and 1 block.

Khayla Pointer had 12 points to lead LSU (20-10).

NO. 16 KENTUCKY 86, TENNESSEE 65

Rhyne Howard hit five three-pointers to break Kentucky’s single-season record and finished with 24 points to help the Wildcats beat Tennessee.

Howard — the SEC player of the year — has made 82 three-pointers this season.

Kentucky (22-7) made 11 of 24 from three-pointers, its 14th game this season with at least 10 made three-pointers. Jordan Horston led Tennessee (21-10) with 24 points.

SEC Women’s Tournament

FRIDAY’S QUARTERFINALS

South Carolina 89, Georgia 56

Arkansas 67, Texas A&M 66

Mississippi State 79, LSU 49

Kentucky 86, Tennessee 65

TODAY’S SEMIFINALS

All times Central

South Carolina vs. Arkansas, 4 p.m.

Mississippi St. vs. Kentucky, 6:30 p.m.

Today’s game

NO. 25 ARKANSAS VS. NO. 1 SOUTH CAROLINA

WHAT SEC Women’s Tournament

WHEN 4 p.m. Central

WHERE Bon Secours Wellness Arena, Greenville, S.C.

RECORDS Arkansas 24-7; South Carolina 30-1

TV SEC Network

Sports on 03/07/2020

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