FAYETTEVILLE – With the Florida Gators women determined to hold Arkansas’ big three scorers below their averages, the Razorbacks women needed role players playing above their roles. They indeed got role players on a roll flogging Florida, 79-57 in Sunday’s SEC game before a vocal 4,020 at Walton Arena and get Georgia off their minds.
Alternating point guards Makayla Daniels, 19 points, two assists and four steals, and A’Tyanna Gaulden, 12 points, five assists and a steal, and center Taylah Thomas, 13 points, seven rebounds and a steal led Arkansas at Walton where Coach Mike Neighbors’ Razorbacks normally are led by shooting stars Chelsea Dungee, Amber Ramirez and Conway’s Alexis Tolefree.
However last Thursday night at Walton the Georgia Bulldogs upset nationally No. 21 Arkansas, 64-55 with a game-plan frustrating Arkansas top guns in particular. And causing the Razorbacks for the first time to look lackluster in general, Neighbors said after last Thursday’s game. The Arkansas coach and Greenwood native was elated postgame Sunday not repeating Thursday’s post game message.
“I thank our crowd for giving us a second chance,” Neighbors said. “Thursday night we gave everyone an opportunity to stay home on a beautiful (Sunday) afternoon. Instead 4,020 showed up and we needed them and the energy we didn’t have Thursday.”
The plan that worked for Georgia coach Joni Taylor Thursday worked in one aspect Sunday for coach Cam Newbauer’s Gators. Dungee, seven points, Ramirez, scoring 11 of her 12 mostly with the game in hand, and Tolefree, 10 points, all below their 19.6, 14.3 and 14.4 pregame averages.
It just didn’t account for the combined 44 from Daniels, Thomas and Gaulden boosting the Razorbacks to 16-4 overall, 4-3 in the SEC going into SEC road games Thursday at Alabama and Sunday at Missouri while the Gators dropped to 11-9, 2-5 in the SEC going into hosting SEC foe LSU Thursday night in Gainesville, Fla.
“We wanted to focus on the Big Three,” Newbauer said. “They were averaging (collectively) 50 points a game and they only got 29 against Georgia. Georgia had a great game that presented (freshman point guard Daniels) some things she might see and she did a great job stepping up (shooting 8 for 10) and Thomas, 5 for 8. Those two combined were 13 for 18. That’s a really good day.”
And junior transfer via Florida State point guard Gaulden started the spark both ends of the court scoring seven off the bench during Arkansas’ 26-13 first quarter.
“They (Dungee, Ramirez and Tolefree) are really good,” Newbauer said. “So you have to force other people to make plays and they did make plays.”
Apparently the plays became relatively easy pickings.
“Every time me or Makayla drove in we either got a wide open basket or somebody else was open,” Gaulden said. “Fortunately was the post player (Thomas) was wide open.”
Credit the Big Three, Daniels said.
“The Big Three makes our job a lot easier,” Daniels said. “Defenses don’t pay that much attention to us and as you can see today they didn’t pay a lot of attention to me.”
Neighbors said, “Georgia exposed us so the other non Big Three did a good job.”
So did his big Big Three, Neighbors said in creating the Florida voids that their teammates seized.
“That’s probably the most minutes they’ve played combined in a conference game,” Neighbors said of Tolefree’s 35:48, Dungee’s has 36:27 and Ramirez’s 38:59. “That was their lowest scoring output but their defense and what they help the others do gives us confidence that we’ve figured out a way when others take them (his Big Three) away.”
Other than trailing 9-8 and 11-8, the Razorbacks played ahead the whole 26-13 first quarter apparently determined eradicating Georgia from their minds.
An 18-2 run started by Dungee making two of a possible 3-point play and fueled by Gaulden, a three and coast to coast steal and layup, a Tolefree steal and coast to coast layup and another basket and a Daniels quarter-ending layup put Arkansas up 26-13 peaked 30-15 by Thomas two early second quarter baskets.
Florida fought back with a 10-0 second quarter run finally stopped by a Gaulden trey for a 33-25 lead at 1:38.
A Ramirez free throw ended Arkansas’ 4-0 late half regrouping to lead 34-25 despite being outrebounded, 23-16 for the first half and going scoreless for nearly six second-quarter minutes.
Arkansas outscored Florida 15-3 on first-half treys, 5 for 14 vs. 1 for 10 but was outscored 10-2 on second chance first half points, especially by Florida’s Kristina Moore though she picked up her third foul fouling Ramirez eight seconds before intermission and in the second half added zero points and just two rebounds to her first half eight points and six boards.
“That hurt because she didn’t get to play extended minutes and she was playing well,” Newbauer said. “ But (with Lavender Briggs’ 17 points and nine boards keeping the Gators in it) but even with that we were only down 52-47 with a wide open three that doesn’t go down.”
A third quarter technical on Neighbors that he said “ I absolutely deserved” appeared to be drawing the Gators close ultimately worked to Arkansas’ advantage as he apparently planned with the Razorbacks running away with it.
Neighbors even made a joking reference to Kentucky men’s coach John Calipari getting a double technical foul ejection precipitating game winning run over the Arkansas men.
“I saw Cal last week,” Neighbors said. “I’ll never say that you never do anything strategically, but sometimes you do. We didn’t go on a 15-0 run but I think it’s important from time to time to let our kids know we are as engaged as they are.”
Photos courtesy of Craven Whitlow, CW3, Sports Action