Paul Boyd is a sports reporter for the Northwest Arkansas Democrat-Gazette. He was voted Arkansas Sportswriter of the Year in 2018.
After UConn, Razorbacks will stick close to home
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)
FAYETTEVILLE — University of Arkansas women’s basketball Coach Mike Neighbors acknowledged filling this year’s schedule was a challenge, especially trying to get teams to come to Walton Arena.
But the nonconference schedule, which was announced Tuesday, should provide the right challenge, he said.
Arkansas will play nine of 13 nonconference games in Walton Arena beginning with the season opener against Tarleton State on Nov. 9, followed by hosting the University of Arkansas-Pine Bluff on Nov. 12. A trip to face 11-time national champion UConn follows Nov. 14.
Neighbors got turned down quickly by some teams after the Razorbacks’ marquee wins over Connecticut and Baylor at home last season. Arkansas went 12-1 in Walton Arena a year ago.
2021-22 Arkansas Schedule
Nov. 9 Tarleton State
Nov. 12 Arkansas-Pine Bluff
Nov. 14 at Connecticut
Nov. 19 at Arkansas State
Nov. 22 SMU
Nov. 27 Sam Houston State
Nov. 28 Belmont
Dec. 2 at Central Florida
Dec. 5 California
Dec. 9 Jackson State
Dec. 12 Arkansas-Little Rock
Dec. 18 Central Arkansas (in NLR)
Dec. 21 Creighton
“It felt like my ninth-grade homecoming dance,” Neighbors said. “We just kept getting turned down over and over and over. We got told no by a lot of teams that will be in the preseason top 25, I think.
“Obviously some past success had something to do with the ability to fill it completely, but I like the ones we were able to fill it with.”
The game time and specific location for the UConn game will be announced at a later date. The Huskies, with former Central Arkansas Christian star Christyn Williams entering her senior season, play most of their home games at Gampel Pavilion in Storrs, Conn., but also play games at the XL Center in Hartford, Conn.
The Razorbacks, who have just one senior and six freshmen on the roster, will play only three true road games out of the 13 nonconference games.
Arkansas will travel to Central Florida to face the Knights on Dec. 2. Central Florida lost to Northwestern in the opening round of the NCAA Tournament last year after earning a No. 10 seed, the highest in school history.
Neighbors said not knowing what the situation with covid would be played a part in a schedule with lots of home games. Having a younger team was also a big consideration.
“We didn’t get to play four nonconference games last year, and some of our younger kids didn’t get opportunities that they would have,” Neighbors said. “We’ll get our new faces and some familiar faces in new roles ready.
“I think our path to the NCAA Tournament is gonna be dependant on how we play in the SEC. So we want to be confident and prepared going into the SEC portion of our schedule.”
Arkansas will travel to Jonesboro to take on Arkansas State University on Nov. 19 and also play the University of Central Arkansas at Simmons Bank Arena in North Little Rock. The University of Arkansas at Little Rock will come to Walton Arena on Dec. 12 to round out four in-state opponents.
The last time the Razorbacks played Arkansas State they lost 98-84 in Jonesboro on March 21, 2005, in the second round of the WNIT. Arkansas is 5-3 all-time vs. ASU, but five of the eight games have been played in Jonesboro.
Neighbors said the in-state opponents work out well for all the teams and fans statewide.
“That was the plan all along. We always wanted to have a presence in Little Rock,” Neighbors said. “It’s a bonus to be able to play an in-state school there. In years where Little Rock comes to our place, we’ll try to play one of the other in-state schools there.
“We also get to go to the northeast corner and play where it will be a bit of a homecoming for Elauna Eaton, who played most of her high school over there. But playing those games is good for everybody. I think we all see the benefits in them, and we all pull for each other when we’re not playing each other.”
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