BY DUDLEY E. DAWSON
A basketball game broke out in the middle of a dance party Friday morning at Bud Walton Arena.
That’s what it seemed like as Arkansas downed Murray State 82-79 before announced Elementary Day crowd of 11,026 fans, including a record number off 7,300 school kids.
“It was a great day for us and we obviously needed them all the way to the buzzer,” Arkansas head coach Mike Neighbors said. “…I think the crowd helped us in a number of ways throughout the game…It was definitely deafening at times in there.”
Taliah Scott had 25 points, Malaya Daniels 15, Samara Spencer 11 points, 7 assists and 6 rebounds and Saylor Poffenbarger 10 points and 12 rebounds in the win.
“I think it is cool to have all of them here,” noted Poffenbarger, who was coming off a career-high 21 rebounds in Tuesday’s season-opening win.. “I mean we don’t get to play in front of a loud crowd like that.
“It’s different than a lot of people, but it’s a fun environment. They all have a blast. I think is is something for them to look forward to and gives us a good crowd.
“It’s always fun because the music is a little different. We listen to a lot of kids music and they scream at a timeout, they scream at a missed shot, they scream at everything.”
It appeared the crowd noise kept Murray State (0-1) from getting a timeout with three seconds left while down three and with the ball.
“It was a lot of kids,” Spencer said. “I applaud them for being so loud that they couldn’t get a timeout at the end. I think it helped honestly because if they had got the timeout, who knows what would happened.”
The crowd on Friday was the fourth largest crowd in Razorback women’s basketball history with the record being 14,163 in the 1999 WNIT champion game win over Wisconsin.
“To get over 10,000 was our goal, we wanted to shatter that,” Neighbors said. “…When people talk about our fans, this is the (kind of) example that I set when I show it to them.
“I said, ‘yeah, we’ve got a 10:30 game and we had 7,000 kids, but there was another 3,500 people that showed up for a 10:30 game. I’ll be sure and point that out to our kids.”
The students came from 49 different schools in Northwest Arkansas and arrived via 135 different buses.
“God, what a great job by our marketing people – Elvis Moya and his team and Julie Cain and her game day people,” Neighbors said. “If y’all didn’t go out here and watch those buses arrive and leave, I put them up with Chik-fil-A on handling big crowds.”
The win did not come easy although Arkansas took a 54-31 lead in the third quarter after trailing 17-16 at the conclusion of the opening quarter.
“I thought from the end of the first quarter into the start of the second quarter, I thought that we had a group that were doing the easy thing,” Neighbors said. “They were making the easy pass, making the easy cut. We weren’t really trying to do hard things.”
But for the second game this season, the Razorbacks – who scored 31 of the second quarter’s 45 points – had to hold off a foe at the finish.
“They (the Racers) have a very veteran team and they took advantage of it, never quit or get down and then the momentum swung their way and they kept it all the way to the very end there,” Neighbor said.
Arkansas let a 16-point lead dwindle to 3 against Louisiana Monroe in an 81-76 season-opening win on Tuesday night.
“The line up was part of it,” Neighbors said. “I have told everyone that I was too stubborn, maybe (went) a little bit too long. Again, one possession stubbornness of letting us play through some things.
“I hadn’t called a timeout. I wanted to see where we were at. I needed to see if we have depth. I’ve been talking about having depth, but do we?
“I need to see it in a game and I need to see those line ups and what happened when Mak (Daniels) gets three fouls and let Mak see what it looks like when she has three fouls.
“My stubbornness was probably rhe largest part of it and obviously they made us pay each time we made a mistake.”
Neighbors saw some of the same mistakes in both game that allows the visitors to cut into the big leads.
“Kind of like the other night, I thought it was quick shots and a quick shot leads to, we call them shot turnovers, and it leads to them getting a 3 on the other end,” Neighbors said.
“We had some line ups in there that we didn’t practice together in defensive things so those are all thing I anticipated would happen, but I want us to be able to close those leads. Take 24 to 35 to 40 that is something that we have got to get to doing.
“But I also can’t do that just playing 5 or 6 kids. We have got to have some depth.
Scott (plus 14), Poffenbarger (plus 13) and Daniels (12) were the top Razorbacks Friday when it came to plus-minus analytics, which measure the amount of points the team was better than its opponent with you on the court.
“That’s the core,” Neighbors said. “And it’s not just in games. We chart that number in practice as well and that is a core group that defensively and offensively present problems for people.
“It is a number that we will continue to monitor. If I was a player, that is the first number I would look at because that tells you how you do with every line up, tells you how you do in every match up and that’s a big number.”
Zoe Stewart led Murray State with 19 points,. Ava Learn added 15, but Arkansas held preseason first-team All Missouri pick Katelyn Young to 7. Former Nettleton star Briley Pena had 6 points for the Racers.
Arkansas will return to action Tuesday when it hosts Little Rock at 7 p.m.
Photo by John D. James