BY DUDLEY E. DAWSON
With Friday night’s 71-66 WNIT quarterfinal win over visiting Texas Tech, Arkansas women’s basketball team assured itself of taking a walk into the Phog on Sunday.
Arkansas (24-12) and Kansas (22-11) – two teams that have played preseason scrimmages the past two season – will meet in the WNIT Great Eight Sunday at 2 p.m. inside the Jayhawks’ fabled Phog Allen Fieldhouse.
That game, which will be televised by ESPN-plus is the next one up after the Razorbacks completed three home wins over Louisiana Tech, Stephen F. Austin and Texas Tech, which came before a crowd of over 3,500 at Bud Walton Arena.
“Our crowd, just thanks to the people that have come out,” Arkansas head coach Mike Neighbors said. “It if was 3,500, it seemed like they counted every other seat. It seemed like 7,000.
“I mean, I, I don’t know how that goes, but it certainly was a very, very loud 3,500. It was very influential and impactful. It got us going when we needed to.
“…Thanks to those people that got us to this point and we will go up there and try to win that one and see what happens in the next round.”
Makayla Daniels had a team-high 21 points, Chrissy Carr 17 and Samara Spencer 10 against Texas Tech in a game where the Razorbacks jumped out to a 15-0 lead in the opening quarter.
Texas Tech (20-15) cut that lead to 18-12 by the end of the first quarter, took a 26-21 advantage while leading most of the second quarter and were tied 28-28 at intermission.
The Red Raiders led most of 4he third quarter before a Arkansas run gave a 47-42 margin going into the fourth quarter.
Texas Tech got within 70-66 with 17 seconds left.
Daniels had some big shots down the stretch.
“She got that look in her eye again of how ‘the season’s not going to end like this. We’re not going to go down like this,’” Neighbors said. “We had some really tough timeouts when some of those runs were happening, and I thought she was just great. She’s really starting to find her voice.”
Daniels agreed that was her mindset, but also of her teammates.
“I don’t think one person on our team wanted the season to end tonight,” Daniels said. “We had a big run at the beginning of the game and then we kind of got on our heels and they came back.
“But I don’t think anyone panicked in that moment. I think we went into halftime, we reset, and I think we just had the mentality that we are not going to lose.”
Bre’Amber Scott, a former Little Rock Central standout had a game-high 28 points for the Lady Red Raiders.
Arkansas’ Erynn Barnum, Scott’s former high school teammate, had 10 rebounds for the Razorbacks.
The Razorbacks and Jayhawks are very familiar with each other as are Neighbors and Kansas head coach Brandon Schnider.
“We did a closed door scrimmage with them so I know a lot about them,” Neighbors said. “Brandon and I are close friends, talk throughout the year and we are on a couple of committees together.
“We will be on the All-American committee down in Dallas. Well, one of us will be. One of us won’t be there because we are both on this committee that is going to meet on Tuesday. We play on Sunday so one of us will not be able to be there.”
Kansas, which has beaten Western Kentucky, Missouri and Nebraska in the WNIT, is led by 6-6 senior center Taiyanna Jackson, who averages 15 points and 12.5 rebounds.
Senior guard Zakiyah Franklin is one of four players who score in double figures for the Jayhawks, who finished seventh in the Big 12 regular season race.
“They are talented, they are big,”Neighbors said. “Jackson is a double-double machine – a 6-6 kid. They have good size at the four and their guards are big.
“I think, knowing what we know now, they probably should have been in the NCAA Tournament. I don’t think there is any question. They have a good team. I think they probably should have been in the NCAA Tournament and we should have been, too, so that’s kind of that match up.”
It will be a quick turnaround for Arkansas per Neighbors.
“We are going to get up in the morning and rehab and then get on the bus and go up there and practice,” Neighbor said.
“It’s one of the iconic road trips. Most of our kids have been there.
“When you get a chance to see the original rules of basketball, you take that chance. The ones that (Dr. James) Naismith sit there and wrote while trying to find some thing to do for his PE class.
“We’ll go see all that and we’ll enjoy it.”
Photo by John D. James