Dungee scores 37 to lead Arkansas over No. 3 UConn

Arkansas guard Chelsea Dungee (33) celebrates a basket during a game against UConn on Thursday, Jan. 28, 2021, in Fayetteville.

FAYETTEVILLE — University of Arkansas women’s basketball Coach Mike Neighbors talks often about his philosophy of giving the Razorbacks a puncher’s chance against anybody.

Well, Arkansas earned a knockout against 11-time national champion Connecticut and did it with only eight players available on Thursday evening in Walton Arena.

Senior Chelsea Dungee poured in a game-high 37 points and the No. 19 Razorbacks held off a late charge by the No. 3 Huskies to claim a 90-87 victory in front of an announced crowd of 4,400, a sellout based off social distance guidelines.

The Razorbacks (12-6) also came up with one of their biggest victories in school history despite missing six players because of covid-19 protocol.

Neighbors couldn’t be prouder of his team’s effort, especially considering the situation.

“After everything we’ve been through a lot of people, a lot of teams, a lot of kids would have said, ‘Let’s take the time off or can we find somebody that hasn’t won 11 national champions?’ ” Neighbors said. “But they didn’t.

“I’m proud of the kids for taking the game. I’m proud of them for wanting to do it. To come out and perform under all this with all the different things. We could have made excuses about all the things we’ve been through.”

The Razorbacks have endured a recent rough patch, losing five of their last seven — all of the losses to ranked opponents. Despite those setbacks, they were ready to face UConn in a game that was scheduled on the fly a week ago.

The Razorbacks were firing on all cylinders against UConn, shooting a blistering 57% from three-point range (13 of 23) and 52% overall from the floor.

Dungee came up big with 22 second-half points. The 5-11 guard made 13 of 21 shots from the floor, including 4 of 5 from three-point range. Neighbors would have expected nothing less.

“There’s performers and then there’s performances,” Neighbors said. “That kid when the big stage and the big shot needed to come was crucial. I thought she was so patient and had great awareness and understanding.”

Connecticut Coach Geno Auriemma said he didn’t know anything about the Razorbacks having any issues with covid-19.

“I just go where they tell me to go and play when they tell me it’s time to play,” Auriemma said. “They said everything was fine. I don’t know what their issues were. If you ask me, the wrong guys were in protocol.”

But the Huskies didn’t go quietly.

Arkansas saw a 10-point lead to start the fourth quarter evaporate as UConn took a 79-77 lead on Evina Westbrook’s three-pointer with 6:28 left. The Razorbacks bounced off the ropes, scoring eight consecutive and led 90-82 with 1:32 remaining.

UConn wasn’t done though. Paige Bueckers hit a three-pointer and Christyn Williams (Central Arkansas Christian) hit a driving layup and drew a foul. Williams missed the free throw, leaving the Arkansas lead at 90-87 with 34.3 seconds left.

Arkansas couldn’t score to put the game away, but it ran the shot clock down and left the Huskies with only 0.3 seconds. Connecticut inbounded the ball at halfcourt but couldn’t get a shot off before the horn sounded.

Dungee came up big with the third game of her career of 37 or more points. She had help. Amber Ramirez added 22 points, including five thee-pointers, and Makayla Daniels chipped 11.

Arkansas won despite making 11 of 20 free throws, something that’s usually a strength for the Razorbacks. But the bigger Huskies only enjoyed a 35-29 rebounding advantage.

Boeckers, one of the top freshmen in the country, didn’t seem to be bothered by the ankle injury that kept her out of the Huskies’ last game over the weekend. She led UConn with 27 points, including 22 in the second half. Westbrook added 19, including five three-pointers, and Williams added 16.

Aubrey Griffin’s three-pointer from the corner in the final seconds of the second quarter gave the Huskies a 43-41 halftime lead. UConn led by as many as eight in the opening half thanks to Nika Muhl’s three-pointer with 3:28 left in the second quarter. But Arkansas clawed back with an 11-2 run and took the lead 41-40 on Ramirez’s jumper with 27 seconds left in the half.

The Razorbacks will step back into SEC play on Sunday when they host Auburn. The game is schedule to tip off at 2 p.m.