Bob Holt is a reporter for the Arkansas Democrat-Gazette. A graduate of the University of Missouri, he is a member of the Football Writers Association of America, and a voter for the Heisman Trophy and AP Top 25 basketball poll. Holt has been awarded Arkansas Sportswriter of the Year three times.
Keeping UALR game important for Razorback women
Arkansas women's basketball coach Mike Neighbors is shown during a game against Arkansas-Little Rock on Saturday, Dec. 21, 2019, at Simmons Bank Arena in North Little Rock.
FAYETTEVILLE – Mike Neighbors, coach of the University of Arkansas women’s basketball team, said in a time of uncertainty resulting from the coronavirus pandemic, one thing is for sure.
The Razorbacks are going to do everything possible to continue to play the UALR Trojans.
SEC teams are now able to work to finalize their nonconference schedules with SEC Commissioner Greg Sankey’s announcement Friday that the women’s conference schedule will begin Dec. 31 and include the usual 16 games.
Under NCAA rules, women’s teams can play up to 25 regular-season games.
That means nine nonconference games for Arkansas, and Neighbors said keeping the University of Arkansas at Little Rock on the schedule is a high priority.
The Razorbacks beat the Trojans 86-53 last season at Simmons Bank Arena in North Little Rock before an announced crowd of 5,540. It was the first time the Arkansas and UALR women’s basketball teams had played since the 1977-78 season when the Razorbacks won 74-54 in Little Rock.
Neighbors and UALR Coach Joe Foley have agreed to meet each other annually.
“When all this went down [with the coronavirus], that was one game we were determined to play,” Neighbors said. “I called Coach Foley and said, ‘Whatever we do, let’s not miss this game.’
“That game was so good last year for everybody involved. We want to make sure we keep that one going. As long as testing protocols are in place, we’re going to try to make that one happen for sure.”
Neighbors said the Razorbacks and Trojans were scheduled to play in Simmons Bank Arena on Dec. 19 as part of a doubleheader with the Arkansas men’s team, which is scheduled to play Old Dominion.
But scheduled games could be moved or canceled because of the pandemic.
“There’s still a lot of moving parts with that, whether we’ll have a doubleheader that day,” Neighbors said. “But Coach Foley and I have pretty much agreed that we’ll find a way to play our game.”
Dan Leibovitz, the SEC’s associate commissioner for basketball, said the Big 12/SEC Challenge for women remains on schedule for early December.
Neighbors said Arkansas is scheduled to play Baylor on Dec. 6 in Walton Arena. The Bears won the 2019 national championship.
“I guess technically Baylor is still the defending national champs,” Neighbors said of the 2020 NCAA Tournament being canceled. “We really hope that game remains one we’re able to play.”
Neighbors said other nonconference games he is hoping to play are Gonzaga in Walton Arena on Dec. 19 and against Arizona. He said the Razorbacks originally were scheduled to play Arizona at a tournament in Los Angeles hosted by Loyola Marymount.
“We’re very hopeful that Gonzaga can still come in here,” Neighbors said. “They certainly want to try to make that game happen. They lost a number of Pac-12 games, so they want to keep our game going.”
Neighbors said a game with Arizona won’t be easy to keep on the schedule.
“We’re still going to be in talks trying to make it happen,” he said.
“But a lot of variables will have to line up perfectly for us to be able to keep that one.”
Arkansas had been scheduled to play in the preseason NIT, Neighbors said, but that tournament has been canceled.
“We’re looking to try to get into another tournament if their bubbles are capable of passing the [safety] guidelines we’re going to have to pass,” Neighbors said. “That could get us a couple more marquee games.
“We’re trying to find as many good teams to play in the nonconference to get ready for league play. Mainly now it’s trying to do our best with what the [NCAA Tournament selection] committee is going to use to look at for at-large bids and what’s important in filling your schedule.”
Neighbors said seeing how some high school and college football teams quickly have scheduled games this fall shows it can be done in basketball in the next few weeks.
“I think we’re learning we can put these games together a little faster than maybe we ever thought was possible,” Neighbors said. “It’s never been more important to have coaches’ cellphone numbers so you call them fast. We’re making sure we have contact information so we can make quick calls and quick decisions.”
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