After a few shaky minutes on the road in the first half Saturday afternoon at No. 16 Creighton, Arkansas women’s basketball coach Mike Neighbors did something unusual for him and his No. 21 unbeaten team.

That was call a first-half timeout, which seem to settle his squad down as they scored the last nine points before intermission to power Arkansas to an 83-75 road win in Omaha, Neb.

The Razorbacks moved to 13-0 on the season while avenging last season’s 81-72 home loss to the Bluejays (8-2), who went on to the NCAA Women’s Tournament Elite Eight.

“That is one of the first timeouts that we have taken in the first half all year long,” Neighbors said. “We were down five and in a little panic mode. I got down on both knees at one point. I didn’t mean to, I wasn’t trying to be that dramatic.

“But we responded and I walked in at halftime and said ‘well, if I knew that’s how y’all would respond to timeouts, I would have taken one earlier.’ But I think it was just calming them down and from that point on, our confidence soared. I thought we earned that and it carried over.”

Samara Spencer had 16 of her game-high 26 points in the first half for Arkansas while Saylor Poffenbarger added 16 points and 13 rebounds, Erynn Barnum 15 points and Makalya Daniels 14.

“It was a tremendous win for us,” Neighbors said. “I thought…from the last two minutes of the first half on to the second half that we were as connected as we had been all year and just had an unbelievable team performance all the way down the line up.

“What a great team Creighton has got and it is a tribute to what they have built here for us to come up here and have a game like that.”

Jayme Horam’s 3-pointer with 2:10 left in the first half gave Creighton a 33-28 lead with Neigbors called the timeout 11 seconds later.

The Razorbacks responded with back-to-back 3-pointers from Rylee Langerman (6 points, 5 rebounds) and then a third from Spencer that gave Arkansas a 37-33 lead at intermission.

“That was an Elite Eight team, which they earned last season,”  Neighbors said. “They are so hard to guard and we hold them to 34 percent (field goal shooting) and just battle. I’m not telling you that won the game, but that response at the end of the second quarter – I think we were down five and went up four – was big.

“I thought we had it in us, but I didn’t know for sure   until today.”

Arkansas would push that lead to 45-35 in the third quarter on the strength of five straight points from Daniels, who was back after missing three game due to injury. 

Neighbors could see the positives that Daniels’ return brought to her team while she played 30 minutes. 

“Just look at the start Sam got off to,” Neighbors said. “Didn’t she make here first three threes? Sam can’t pass it to herself. That is a result of Mak. And then not only that, but just the way we went about preparation with her being back. 

“I thought everybody did an amazing job with her gone, but you don’t take a kid like that away from a team and there not be some slippage.  So I thought it was a shot of adrenaline that we all needed and obviously her play all throw the game offensively and defensively was crucial to our success.”

Two more free throws from Daniels and Maryam Dauds’s 3-pointer gave Arkansas its largest lead of the game at 58-47 with 2:35 left in the third quarter.

Creighton would crawl back within four on a quartet off times in the fourth quarter,  but Poffenbarger and Chrissy Carr both hit a pair of free throws in the final 16 seconds to ice the game.

“I think if I am looking at this right, we held them to 2 of 15 from 3 in the second half, which shows how hard we made them play in the first half,” Neighbors said.

It helped to be out front against a team coached by Jim Flannery.

“Once we got the lead, it forced them to go a little bit quicker than they wanted to,” Neighbors said. “If there is a better X and O coach in American than Jim Flannery, please show him to me. I try to study his stuff. If you stand over there and let that guy dissect you, he is going to pick you apart and get every shot that they want. 

“But I thought with that lead we forced them to play just a tad faster than they wanted to and then you have that compounded effect of how hard we make them play faster, that bodes well for us.”

It was what Neighbors wanted to see after his team had a somewhat lackluster 77-63 win over Arkansas State last Sunday.

His team moves on to San Diego for a Tuesday game against Oregon – tied with Creighton at No. 16 – and a Wednesday game with either No. 3 Ohio State or South Florida.

“Y’all were in the media room the other night and I don’t ever call a kid out, but that was about as close I’ve ever gotten,” Neighbors said pop his team in general. “I thought we responded to that and our kids told me – in some of the feedback I got from them – that they are more focused on the road because they don’t have all those home distractions.

It was Arkansas’ third true road win this season and sixth overall away from home, including winning a trio of Paradise Jam games in the U.S. Virgin Islands the week of Thanksgiving.

“…You look at it now and how we played in the (three wins in the) Virgin Islands and how we played up here – and I know we are going to have to play some home games eventually, but we have to figure out what those distractions are,” Neighbors said.

“We didn’t have them (today). It is cold up here and we were going through it together, but now we get to go and get some sunshine. We are going to chase the sun across the country.”

Photo by John D. James