FAYETTEVILLE - Mike Neighbors foresees his Arkansas Razorbacks opening Monday in the NCAA Women’s Basketball Tournament bedeviled by an Angel.
At 1 p.m Monday on ESPN from the University of Texas’ Erwin Center in Austin, Neighbors’ fourth-seeded Razorbacks, 19-8 overall and 9-6 in the SEC with outside the conference wins over NCAA Tournament No. 1 seed UConn and No. 2 seed Baylor, meet the Horizon League/ Horizon Tournament champion Wright State Raiders in Round One of the San Antonio and vicinity based NCAA Women’s Tournament Alamo division.
Monday’s Arkansas vs. Wright State winner advances to Wednesday’s second round against the first-round winner between Missouri State and the University of California-Davis.
Neighbors expects a devil of a time with an Angel because the Dayton, Ohio based 18-7 Raiders are led by 5-8 junior guard Angel Baker averaging 18.1 points per game.
“They’ve got an SEC caliber guard that can score against multiple defenses,” Neighbors said. “She can get to the rim. She can get to the foul line. She can create off the bounce.”
Any particular SEC guard of whom Baker reminds?
“Take your pick in the SEC,” Neighbors said. “Everybody as got a guard like this that can get it going and build confidence in her entire team. And individually if you don’t guard her she can do enough to beat you. She’s going to score. We just want to make sure she as to really, really earn them. We hope that we will be able to use that SEC experience to make her life tough.”
Neighbors said the Raiders have the coaching staff, head coach Katrina Merriweather and top assistant Tennille Adams, of Arkansas fame as a starter on former Arkansas Coach Gary Blair’s 1998 Final Four Lady’Backs, and players to fill in the complementary blanks to their star guard.
“They’ve got size,” Neighbors said. “They’ve got a 6-4 (center Tyler Frierson) who has blocked 27 shots. I’ve known Katrina Merriweather since I got into college coaching and know how hard her teams play and Tennille Adams and her toughness and do whatever it takes for the team to win mentality. The most important thing is they’ve got a championship trophy with a net hanging around it that says they won their conference. They are a conference champion and a conference tournament champion. They’re confident. They play that way.”
What style is “that way” they play?
“They’re very opportunistic in transition,” Neighbors said. “Other times you’ll see them walk it up the floor. I think that’s why you see their scores in the low 60s but their offense is better than that. We will have to work hard to establish a fast pace. They have the ability for a blueprint that has given us problems in the past. Definitely not the 13 seed I would have signed up for but it’s the one we got.”
Of course Wright State might not deem it any bargain drawing the well-balanced Razorbacks. Senior All-American guard Chelsea Dungee leads offensively averaging 22.3 points augmented by Destiny Slocum, 15.5, Amber Ramirez, 13.7 and defensive stopper point guard Makayla Daniels, 11.6, with fifth-year senior guard Jailyn Mason off the bench while Taylah Thomas and Erynn Barnum combine to be a blue-collar two-headed center.
It’s a team that’s accomplished a lot against a lot of good teams even in defeat like two last second buzzer beater heartbreakers against SEC champion Texas A&M but also lost in the first round of the SEC Tournament in Greenville, S.C. to an Ole Miss team the Razorbacks had beaten in Fayetteville.
“I think we’ve proven we’re capable of staying down here for awhile or go home Monday, night,” Neighbors said. “We could lose in the first round or go really deep. We’ve got to be sure we’re that second team.”