BY DUDLEY E. DAWSON
Sunday was not the first time that Arkansas and Arkansas State women’s programs have ever met on a basketball court, but it was the initial time inside Bud Walton Arena.
Samara Spencer’s 19 points led the way for hosts in a hard-fought game in which the Razorbacks broke away late to grab a 77-63 win over the Red Wolves.
Erynn Barnum added 16 points for Arkansas (12-0) with Jersey Wolfenbarger chipping in 15, Maryam Dauda 11 and Chrissy Carr 10 in the win.
“I thought we got exactly what we expected out of Arkansas State,” Arkansas head coach Mike Neighbors said. “They are a really, really good offensive team. Really stretched us out early in the game, got great look after great look.
“…In the first quarter, I think they shot like 60 percent. We turned them over a few times, but if they weren’t turning it over, they were making shots.”
It was the 10th meeting overall between the school’s women’s basketball programs with the Razorbacks leading the series 7-3, including 3-0 inside Barnhill Arena, Arkansas’ former home.
One of the more famous contest between the two was in 2005 when Arkansas State beat Arkansas 98-84 in a WNIT game in Jonesboro.
Neighbors, whose team was playing its second game this week without injured star Makayla Daniels, did his best to explain to his team how important a chance to play and beat Arkansas is to Arkansas State and its fans.
“I told them that the last time they beat us that they made a movie out of it,” Neighbors said of a commemorative film. “I’ve seen it. It was played on PBS a bunch… I know the history of it and I made sure they know the history of it.
“The scouting film was easy. Our kids are smart and could tell how could they were. Again, you have got three kids that have been playing at Power 5 schools. So they did not need any inspiration, they had it. But I did remind them that the last time we lost a game in the series they produced a movie about it.”
Fomer Batesville star and two-year Missouri player Izzy Higginbottom led Arkansas State (4-5) with 19 points while Lauryn Pendleton added 12.
Arkansas State cut what was once Arkansas’ 15-point lead to 65-59 on a Mailyn Wilkerson’s 3-pointer with 7:07 remaining.
But it would be the visitors’ last field goal of the game.
Arkansas State head coach Destinee Rogers loved the toughness her team showed and Neighbors willingness to schedule her school.
The win pushed Arkansas to 4-0 this season against in-state schools with wins at UAPB, at UALR and home wins over UCA and Arkansas State and an exhibition win over UAFS thrown in.
“What a great game for the state of Arkansas,” Rogers said. “We were obviously really excited to come in here and play. Hats off to Coach Neighbors for being willing to play all the Arkansas teams. I think that is a big deal for our state.
“So we really enjoyed this game and we loved playing them. Such a great team, coached really well. My challenge to my team today was that we just wanted to show up and be tough, wanted to compete and fight for four quarters and I really felt like my team did that.”
Arkansas looked like it might be getting run away when it took a 51-36 lead on Wolfenbarger’s lay up with 8:05 left in the third quarter.
“There were a couple of times where my team could have laid down when they started hitting a couple of shots and going on a run, but I felt like we didn’t lay down,” Rogers said.
“I told my team at the end of the game that we didn’t have anything to hold our heads (down) about. I thought we played a really good game. They just hit some big shots.
“But overall, I am really, really proud of my team for coming in to an environment like this and really stepping up to the challenge today and really fighting.”
Arkansas’ players will have finals this week before a trip to face Creighton Saturday at 1 p.m. in a game Neighbors hopes Daniels will be healthy enough to play in.
That will be followed up by a pair of games Dec. 20 and 21 at the San Diego Invitational against Oregon and either Ohio State on South Florida.
Photo by John D. James