Like It Is:

UA women had a great year despite upset loss

By: Wally Hall Wally Hall's Twitter account
Published: Tuesday, March 23, 2021
Arkansas head coach Mike Neighbors speaks with his team in a time out against Wright State during the second half of a college basketball game in the first round of the women's NCAA tournament at the Frank Erwin Center in Austin, Texas, Monday, March 22, 2021. (AP Photo/Stephen Spillman)
Arkansas head coach Mike Neighbors speaks with his team in a time out against Wright State during the second half of a college basketball game in the first round of the women's NCAA tournament at the Frank Erwin Center in Austin, Texas, Monday, March 22, 2021. (AP Photo/Stephen Spillman)

In the last few years, watching the University of Arkansas women’s team — whenever the Razorbacks were on TV — became a habit at our house.

Fundamentally sound, well coached and ready to play every time they took the court made them fun to watch.

This season, they had huge wins over UConn and Baylor, two of the top five powerhouses in the country, and were awarded a No. 4 seed in the NCAA Women’s Tournament.

Monday afternoon they started slow, making only two of their first 12 three-pointers and trailed Wright State 38-26 at the half before losing 66-62 when they couldn’t score in the last minute.

The Razorbacks led 62-61 with 56 seconds to play, but all they would manage in those precious final seconds was a turnover and two misses, the second one coming with one second on the clock.

During that span the Raiders got a back-breaking three-pointer with 20 seconds left and then added two free throws with eight seconds to play.

It was a good game, especially in the second half, but Wright State was more physical and quicker at key positions.

The Raiders’ aggressiveness was a big reason for their win, but it also helped the Razorbacks at the free-throw line.

Wright State fouled 23 times, and Arkansas made 21 of 28 free throws to stay in the game as their usually outstanding shooting was missing in action.

Arkansas made 7 of 22 three-pointers and 17 of 50 overall, 34%.

Those are not usually winning numbers.

Wright State had 44 rebounds, 15 of them offensive, while the Razorbacks had 30 and only 8 were offensive.

The Raiders owned the paint with their size and strength and had 28 points inside, including 14 off offensive rebounds.

There is so much parity in college basketball that the only reason this was an upset was the difference in seeding.

The team from Dayton, Ohio, never flinched, not even when it fell behind late.

The Raiders survived and advanced and will stick around another day at the tournament, where the majority of the games are being played in San Antonio. Most of the basketball players and officials have been a little surprised to see how many college kids and families are there for spring break.

No one, including the NCAA can put a bubble over spring break in one of Texas’ greatest cities.

Wright State, though, probably couldn't care less after beating the Razorbacks.

The Raiders were so aggressive that they got nailed with two technical fouls, one on Emani Jefferson and the Jada Wright.

Jefferson was a thorn in the Razorbacks’ side all afternoon with her quick hands on defense. She finished with 13 points and six rebounds before fouling out with 5:06 to play when the Razorbacks were in the double bonus.

That could have been a turning point for the Razorbacks, but there was no drop off in the Wright State defense, especially on the perimeter, as the Raiders put the game away in the final seconds.

For Arkansas, it was a sad way to end a great season when the Razorbacks not only had success but against some of the best programs in the country.

In his four seasons at Arkansas, Mike Neighbors has returned the Razorbacks to a place of respect nationally.

The Greenwood, Ark., native is 78-50 at Arkansas and would have had his team in the NCAA Tournament a year ago if not for covid-19.

That experience might have paid dividends Monday.

Instead, the Razorbacks were held to a season-low first-half points — 28 was the previous low — and a below-average shooting performance.

Yet, take nothing away from a well-coached and prepared Wright State team which came in with the single focus of playing hard and seeing what happens at the end.

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