Ethan Westerman is a reporter for the Hawgs Sports Network. He is a double graduate of the University of Arkansas.
Season's end a time of reflection for Neighbors, Razorbacks
Arkansas coach Mike Neighbors (center) speaks to an official during a WNIT game against Texas Tech on Friday, March 24, 2023, in Fayetteville.
FAYETTEVILLE — After the season ended Sunday with a loss at Kansas in the WNIT quarterfinals, Coach Mike Neighbors and the University of Arkansas women’s basketball team began the NCAA’s required two-week pause from activities.
The Razorbacks loaded the bus for a ride back to Fayetteville, having just wrapped up a 139-day season, the longest in program history, finishing with a 24-13 record.
“Ends of seasons are always unique, and they’re hard,” Neighbors said. “But with a bus ride home, I reached out and told anybody that needed to talk to come up, and I’ll be [at the front of] the bus for the next 4 1/2 hours. I had a few people come and just talk about the way the season went and what’s up next.”
His team fell short of its goal to make the NCAA Tournament. Four one-possession losses haunted the Razorbacks on Selection Sunday — those setbacks likely making all the difference.
“Dealing with the frustrations, like having to relive the close losses when you miss the tournament like we did, not only is it human nature, I think it’s required of us as people and players to go back and autopsy our season,” Neighbors said. “I think you’ve got to live through that, as painful as it is and as much as it might hurt to bring it up, otherwise you might not learn from it.”
One of the bright spots looking ahead to next season is consensus 5-star guard Taliah Scott (Orange Park, Fla.), who signed with Arkansas. She played Tuesday in the McDonald’s All-American Game and dished out 2 assists, made 2 free throws, pulled down 3 rebounds and most notably took 2 hard charges.
“If you know her, it doesn’t matter whether it’s an all-star game, a game of spades on the back of the bus or a shooting contest, she doesn’t know anything other than try to win it,” Neighbors said.
Scott is joined in the class of 2023 by guards Maryn Archer (Derby, Kan.), Carly Keats (Jones Community College in Ellisville, Miss.) and Christina Sanchez (Granada, Spain), along with forward Jenna Lawrence (Farmington), who recently led the Lady Cardinals to the Class 4A state championship.
“We’ve had Maryn on campus already, Jenna had a phenomenal year, Carly Keats had an amazing year at the junior college level and at the national tournament, and then Christina, she’ll probably find out in the next couple weeks, but she’s most likely going to make [Spain’s] world championship team,” Neighbors said. “So, lots of excitement for who’s coming in and who’s coming back.”
Seniors Makayla Daniels and Erynn Barnum are both exhausting a fifth year of eligibility with the Razorbacks, and Arkansas is retaining 83% of its scoring.
“You know, the meetings I’ve had so far with our kids, just the excitement that they have to get started and their plans for how they want to improve themselves to improve our team, has been real encouraging,” Neighbors said. “The two weeks [away] is going to be nice to take and reflect and plan, but I can’t wait to get back on the floor with them.”
Arkansas will be losing Chrissy Carr, who transferred in for her graduate season, along with Avery Hughes (Bentonville), who began as a walk-on in 2019 but was rewarded with a full scholarship her junior year.
Carr, who started every game for Arkansas this season and led the team with 86 three-pointers made, declared for the WNBA Draft on Tuesday. She joined Wednesday’s video call from outside a surgery center, fresh off visiting a young fan who was getting her tonsils removed.
The act was a byproduct of the impact Carr said her time in Fayetteville had on her.
“The transfer portal helped me find a forever home,” Carr said. “I can’t thank Coach Neighbors, the staff and the fans enough on just being able to allow me to play my last year here. … My main goal here was just to soak it all up my last year, and it’s a very special place. I will forever hold this place in my heart. … It’s meant the world to me. I’ve enjoyed every second of it [and] I don’t regret my decision for one second. I would do it all over again if I could.”
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