Razorbacks begin difficult stretch against Wisconsin in Fort Myers Tip-Off

Arkansas head coach Mike Neighbors gestures to his players in the first half of an NCAA college basketball game against South Carolina during the Southeastern Conference women's tournament in Greenville, S.C., Friday, March 3, 2023. (AP Photo/Mic Smith)

Following a 5-0 start, the Arkansas women’s basketball team faces a daunting four-game stretch which begins Friday against Wisconsin at the Fort Myers (Fla.) Tip-Off.

The Razorbacks are scheduled to face the Badgers at 1 p.m. Central at Suncoast Credit Union Arena and will await either Boston College or Marquette in their next game. 

More from WholeHogSports: How to watch, listen to Arkansas-Wisconsin

The four teams are paired in a traditional four-team bracket format. Friday’s losing teams will play at 4:30 p.m. Saturday and a championship game will follow.

After the tournament, Arkansas (5-0) will return to the state to play at No. 12 Florida State on Nov. 30 then host No. 2 UCLA on Dec. 3.

The gauntlet of games comes after an opening five-game stretch that Arkansas coach Mike Neighbors said went to script. Before the season started, the seventh-year Razorbacks coach said he made a schedule he believes “fit his team.”

“I did not want to turn the calendar into December and not know some things,” Neighbors said. “We're going to know some things….I don't think we'll be undefeated — maybe we will — but if we are, we're going to be one of the top-five teams in the country.

“Otherwise, if our record is less than perfect, we're going to be whatever we are. But we're going to know about our team going into the SEC.”

The Razorbacks began the season with close victories over Louisiana-Monroe and Murray State, then swept in-state games against Arkansas-Little Rock, at Arkansas State and Central Arkansas by double digits.

Wisconsin (3-1) won its first three games before losing 75-57 last Sunday at Kansas State, which was fresh off upsetting then-No. 2 Iowa. The Wildcats were ranked No. 16 this week by The Associated Press.

The Badgers’ trio over victories included a 66-64 win over South Dakota State, which is a perennial contender in the Summit League and was an NCAA Tournament Round of 32 team last year.

Neighbors in his second and third seasons coaching the Razorbacks faced the Badgers in similar early-season settings. Arkansas defeated Wisconsin 69-68 during the 2018 Music City Challenge in Nashville, Tenn., and again 68-64 in the 2019 Bahamas Hoopfest in Nassau, Bahamas.

“It seems like we play them [often] in tournaments,” Neighbors said. “I don’t know what it is, but we play them in tournaments.

“We’re pretty familiar with them, for sure. I watched them the other night against Kansas State. Obviously, Kansas State is a really, really good team…. [It was] my first chance to put my eyes on them. They beat a really good South Dakota State team, which is a hard thing to do.”

Neighbors said he thinks the Badgers will present a new look for his team, which has gone against guard-heavy opponents through its early slate.

“When you look at them on film, they're very strong,” Neighbors said. “You can tell they spend a lot of time in the weight room. Their best players is their [center], which this will be the first time all year that we've played a team, whose best player is their [center]. We've been playing a lot of really good guards and some small forwards, but [it will be the] first time this year for us to play a team where their best player is the big kid.”

The player Neighbors referenced is 6-4 sophomore Serah Williams, who leads the Badgers with 14.5 points and 8 rebounds per game. Williams was a three-time Big Ten freshman of the week honoree in 2022-23. She is fresh off a season-high 22 points in the loss to Wisconsin.

“They throw it to her a bunch,” Neighbors said. “She's real active. She'll be a challenge for us around the basket. [They have a] couple of good returners around a freshman. They've got a freshman [D’Yanis Jimenez] coming in and starting for them. Very similar to us in rotation — they'll play six or seven kids double-figure minutes.

“It could be a great matchup [and it] should be a fun one to get kicked off with down there.”

It will be a return to the Sunshine State for Arkansas junior Samara Spencer and freshman Taliah Scott.

Spencer grew up in Fort Myers, where she led her team to a state title her freshman season. She moved 140 miles southeast to Fort Lauderdale to finish her high school career.

Scott went to St. Johns Country Day School in Orange Park, Fla., which is near Jacksonville. She leads the SEC scoring 24.6 points per game, which ranks sixth in Division I. She was awarded the league’s most recent freshman of the week honor, in large part due to a 34-point outing at Arkansas State.

It will be the teams’ fourth meeting. Arkansas is 3-0 in the series, highlighted by a 67-64 victory in the 1999 Women’s National Invitational Championship Game at Bud Walton Arena. 

The WNIT title game drew a crowd of 14,163, which still stands as the largest home crowd in program history.

Team Comparions

Points for — Arkansas 80.6, Wisconsin 64.8

Points against — Arkansas 65.0, Wisconsin 60.5

Rebound margin — Arkansas +4.4, Wisconsin -4.3

Turnover margin — Arkansas +2.2, Wisconsin +2.7

FG % — Arkansas 42.3, Wisconsin 41.0

3PT FG % — Arkansas 27.5, Wisconsin 32.2

FT % — Arkansas 73.2, Wisconsin 62.0

Probable Starters

Wisconsin

G Ronnie Porter (5-4, So.) —12.8 ppg, 6.8 rpg

G Brooke Schramek (6-0, Sr.) — 10.3 ppg, 6.8 rpg

G D’Yanis Jimenez (5-8, Fr.) — 9.0 ppg, 2.5 rpg

G Natalie Leuzinger (5-8, Sr.) — 5.8 ppg, 3.0 rpg

F Serah Williams (6-4, So.) — 14.5 ppg,  8.0 rpg

Arkansas

G Makayla Daniels (5-8, Gr.) — 10.8 ppg, 4.0 rpg

G Samara Spencer (5-7, Jr.) — 11.6 ppg, 4.0 rpg

G Taliah Scott (5-9, Fr.) — 24.6 ppg, 4.2 rpg

G Saylor Poffenbarger (6-2, R-So.) — 11.0 ppg, 12.2 rpg

F Maryam Dauda (6-4, R-So.) — 9.4 ppg, 7.8 rpg