Ethan Westerman is a reporter for the Hawgs Sports Network. He has bachelor's degrees in journalism and marketing from the University of Arkansas.
UA women welcome UALR to begin in-state stretch
UALR coach Joe Foley and Arkansas coach Mike Neighbors talk before a game Sunday, Dec. 12, 2021, at Bud Walton Arena in Fayetteville. (David Beach/Special to the NWA Democrat-Gazette)
FAYETTEVILLE — A three-game stretch against in-state competition begins Tuesday night for the Arkansas women’s basketball team.
The Razorbacks (2-0) welcome Arkansas-Little Rock to Bud Walton Arena at 7 p.m. to commence the slate of games, which includes a matchup at Arkansas State and against Central Arkansas.
It is the third consecutive season Arkansas will play the state’s four other Division I schools, and the fifth year in a row to play UALR. The Razorbacks are scheduled to host Arkansas-Pine Bluff on Dec. 10.
Arkansas coach Mike Neighbors has been a supporter of his team playing games against in-state competition since a scheduling ban was lifted in 2019. The Razorbacks ended a 36-year hiatus of regular-season matchups against other state teams in December 2019 when they played UALR in North Little Rock.
“I grew up not understanding why they didn't [play those games], and I wanted to see those games,” Neighbors said. “I understood after I got older why, and I got it, but [wanted to schedule them] the second that the people way up the chain from me said it was OK — the board of trustees, [Arkansas athletics director Hunter Yurachek] and my bosses.
“For women's basketball — and I say this every time, I don't know anything about any other sport — but for women's basketball, our state needs it…. I just think we have to do it in women's basketball to grow our high school sports, our grassroots programs and then each other. I pull for all of those guys except for the night that we play them.”
UALR (0-2) will make its second trip to Fayetteville, where it lost 73-39 in December 2021. It is the first of four games against SEC teams for UALR.
The Trojans are on the heels of a 2022-23 season in which they were one game shy of their seventh NCAA Tournament appearance under long-time coach Joe Foley, a member of the Arkansas Sports Hall of Fame. UALR lost by eight points to Tennessee Tech in the Ohio Valley Conference Tournament title game last season.
Foley-coached teams always have Neighbors’ respect.
“It's not going to be a big surprise,” Neighbors said. “Joe Foley does Joe Foley…. They’re very identifiable. You know it's going to be a low-possession game, you know they're going to make you work to defend multiple motion actions and none of us can predict it.
“There's not a coach in the world that has predicted what Joe Foley was going to do successfully in a game, so we'll work on concepts.”
The Razorbacks are seeking to start the season 3-0 for the fourth time under Neighbors, who is in his seventh season. Arkansas nearly saw big second-half leads evaporate in its first two games, an 81-76 victory over Louisiana-Monroe and 82-79 win against Murray State.
In both instances the Razorbacks experimented some with lineups to try to get players comfortable on the court with each other.
“I want us to be able to later on close those leads — take 24 to 35 to 40 — and that’s something we’ve got to get to doing,” Neighbors said, referencing a 24-point lead his team had against Murray State. “But I also can’t do that playing just five or six kids. We’ve got to have some depth.”
Arkansas freshman guard Taliah Scott leads the SEC in scoring with 27 points per game and redshirt sophomore Saylor Poffenbarger is tied for the Division I lead in rebounding with 16.5 per game.
“It was definitely a focus for me,” Poffenbarger said of her presence on the boards. “I think that it's really important for me to focus on controllables, and I can control how hard I crash.”
UALR opened its season with a 52-47 loss to Missouri State, then was pummeled by Kansas State, 77-39. The Trojans were out-rebounded in those games by an average of 17.5 and shot a combined 30.2% from the field.
Trojans forward Faith Lee (18.5 points per game) and guard Jordan Holman (11.5) are responsible for 69.8% of UALR’s scoring. No other player has averaged more than four points.
Have a comment on this story? Join the discussion or start a new one on the Forums.