Ethan Westerman is a reporter for the Hawgs Sports Network. He has bachelor's degrees in journalism and marketing from the University of Arkansas.
Pregame visual helps Razorbacks in 41-point rout of UALR
Arkansas’ Maryam Dauda looks to shoot, Tuesday, Nov. 14, 2023, during a 77-36 victory over Arkansas-Little Rock at Bud Walton Arena in Fayetteville.
FAYETTEVILLE — Arkansas women's basketball coach Mike Neighbors made the short trek over to the Razorbacks’ soccer field this week to pay a visit to coach Colby Hale.
He went asking for a pair of keeper gloves. Neighbors knew having active hands on defense would be key to his team’s matchup Tuesday night against Arkansas-Little Rock, so he used the gloves during a speech before the game to demonstrate the importance of getting batted balls.
The mission was accomplished.
The Razorbacks (3-0) held Arkansas-Little Rock to 14-of-57 shooting (24.6%) and forced 20 turnovers in their 77-36 victory over the Trojans at Bud Walton Arena.
“I'm not a big pregame, visual guy, but I did borrow a set of keeper gloves from our SEC champion soccer team,” Neighbors said. “Coach Todd [Schaefer] had talked about them getting batted balls and [using their] feet, so I jumped in there and said, ‘Hey, for every batted ball we get, it'll go toward our end-of-the-year party fund.' It kind of got our kids fired up.
“But Coach Schaefer had a really good game plan and I thought our kids were hooked up and executed it, for the most part, all game long.”
Defense was not the only area of improvement Neighbors said his team needed. After averaging 17 turnovers in the first two games, he emphasized ball security, and went to one of the program’s greats for help.
“I turned to the best ball handler in the history of our program, Amber Nicholas [Shirey], and told her, 'You're in charge to get us five minutes of ball-handling,'” Neighbors said. “The first day it took us about 12 minutes to get five good minutes…. Again, there's never been a better ball handler in the history of our program, so let's use her.
“It's just like anything in coaching, what you emphasize the most, you're probably going to get the most. So we really emphasized valuing the ball a little bit and handling it.”
The Razorbacks reduced their turnovers to eight Tuesday and had their most efficient night shooting. Arkansas was 27 of 65 (41.5%) from the floor and had four players score in double figures.
Freshman guard Taliah Scott scored a game-high 18 points and sophomore Maryam Dauda recorded a career-high 15 points. Junior Saylor Poffenbarger had 12 points and 8 rebounds in 24 minutes, and Jones (Miss.) College transfer Carly Keats added 14 points with 4 three-pointers.
“Shot selection is a year-long battle,” Neighbors said. “It's one of those things…. I don't think we're anywhere close to being where we need to be, but…it's better than it has been.
“I think we will get better at it as the next couple weeks go along. I hope we continue to see improvement every single game and not too many steps backward.”
UALR (0-3) made its first shot of the game — a layup by Sug Williams — but missed its next 13 attempts. Arkansas surged ahead quickly, powered by back-to-back three-point makes from Poffenbarger, and led 16-4 at the end of the first quarter.
Dauda scored eight points in the second quarter and helped the Razorbacks grow their lead to 34-14 by halftime. The forward from Bentonville was aggressive with the ball in her hands, attacking comfortable matchups.
“Before we came out, Coach Neighbors came in and he was like, ‘Oh, they're starting five guards,’" Dauda said. "I just knew having a 5-11 or 5-7 person guarding me, I just have to dominate in the paint.”
Dauda scored five quick points in the third quarter, including a three-pointer, to top her previous career-best of 11 points last season on the road at LSU.
“When they started five guards, we tried to kind of pump Maryam up [to] be real aggressive,” Neighbors said. “And we've all seen those flashes. As she gets more at-bats — a baseball reference there — but as she gets more at-bats, you're going to continue to see that on a nightly basis.”
In the second half Arkansas outscored the Trojans 43-22 and was able to go deep in its bench. Keats and Scott each scored 11 points in the second half.
It was a refreshing sight for Neighbors after watching his team struggle to close out its first two games, a five-point win over Louisiana-Monroe and a three-point victory over Murray State.
“[It was] good to see everybody excited,” he said. “There's a lot of bench excitement [and] enthusiasm that we haven't had because they've been last-possession, last-minute [games]. I think if you had been in our film sessions, you knew it was much needed.
“Our kids have been very receptive to coaching, so it was good to be able to have a few kids have some success and do the things that cause that excitement.”
Annemaria Batista led UALR with 13 points on 5-of-14 shooting. She had all three of the Trojans’ makes from beyond the arc, where they shot a collective 3 of 13.
Arkansas is scheduled to travel to Arkansas State for a 7 p.m. game Friday, and UALR is scheduled to host Alabama on Sunday at 1 p.m.
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