FAYETTEVILLE – At 18-5 overall and 6-4 in the tough SEC, these nationally No. 25 Arkansas Razorbacks women obviously are capable of beating a lot of teams.
The nationally No. 1 South Carolina Gamecocks obviously aren’t one of them. Coach Dawn Staley’s now 22-1, 10-0 Gamecocks routed the Razorbacks, 86-65 in Thursday night’s SEC game at Walton Arena.
They completed a home and home sweep having defeated Arkansas, 91-82 on Jan. 9 in Columbia, S.C. – a deceptive score since USC peaked its lead up 25 in that one before the Razorbacks rallied in the fourth quarter.
Speaking of deceptions. reports that South Carolina 6-5 freshman superstar center Aliyah Boston’s knee injury during the Gamecocks Sunday triumph over Tennessee might hinder her from hurting the Hogs proved greatly exaggerated.
Instead she put the hurt on the Hogs again.
For after 19 points, 25 rebounds and five shot blocks against Arkansas in 30 minutes at Columbia, Boston in 30 minutes Thursday in Fayetteville scored 18 points off 7 of 8 from the field, 4 of 4 from the lime, grabbed 15 rebounds, blocked seven shots, and made two steals and an assist against one turnover.
So you gather Boston is healthy, Arkansas coach Mike Neighbors was asked?
“Whew!” Neighbors said. I’d say reports of her being unhealthy were not very accurate.”
He cited Boston’s ability not just excelling individually but compensating for four already excellent teammates on the floor with her because of her shot-blocking and rebounding. “You think you get past a tough on the ball defender and you think you’re open and you’re not. We think we do a great job guarding and get a miss and then she rebounds their miss and puts it back in.”
Staley said playing Boston “actually was a game time decision because she didn’t practice the last two days but luckily for us she felt good today and played and we got the win against a good team at a tough place to play. Eighteen, 15 and seven, (Boston’s scoring, rebounding, shot-blocking trifecta) not too many freshmen are doing that, maybe ever.”
Arkansas guard Amber Ramirez said at a mobile shot-blocking 6-5 Boston affected the game in about every phase.
South Carolina guard Mikiah Herbert Harrigan led all scorers with 23 points and grabbed nine rebounds while USC guard Zia Cooke scored 14 and grabbed six boards as USC outrebounded Arkansas, 57-31.
As Neighbors said, Boston is a great player but all the Gamecocks make them No. 1 and exploiting whatever frailties they find.
“A few too many lapses to beat the No. 1 team in the country,” Neighbors said. “They are too good. too well balanced, too well coached – they are too everything and that’s why they are who they are.”
Chelsea Dungee, noting the Gamecocks “are No. 1 for a reason” led Arkansas with 16 hard-earned points off 25 shots and also led Arkansas with seven rebounds.
Twenty-five make lot of shots to score 16 but Neighbors was pleased to see his recently struggling star continue to persevere.
“The only way I know how to coach is to keep believing in kids who have done well for you,” Neighbors said. “We’re going to keep calling her number.”
As well he should, Staley said.
“Dungee is a tough matchup,” Staley said, “She scored a lot of points on us last year at the center of our scouting report. We didn’t want to give her any clean looks and we did a good job though can’t do that for 40 minutes and she did get loose a few times and made us pay for it. But we did make it hard for her.”
Senior Arkansas guard Alexis Tolefree of Conway, coming off scoring 35 in Arkansas’ overtime 85-81 SEC comeback win at Missouri, scored 13 Thursday.
The Razorbacks now set their sights on hosting Kentucky in Sunday’s 3 p.m. ESPN2 televised SEC game that Neighbors has marketed all week for a big Dollar Day crowd at Walton.
The Gamecocks hit Arkansas with a game-opening 9-0 run.
They would still lead by nine, 26-17 at the first quarter’s end and upped it 46-33 at half after first-half peaking 41-34 with 3:38 left in the second quarter.
Dominating the first half boards, 26-13 most enabled the Gamecocks to dominate the first half. Boston nearly double-doubled in Thursday night’s first half. She was 5 for 5 from the field 2 of 2 from the free throw line for 12 points and nine boards and blocked two shots.
Herbert Harrigan scored 11 first points.
Off the bench, freshman Erynn Barnum gave Arkansas its first life breaking USC’s 9-0 run with a trey at 6:40.
Ultimately Dungee kept the Razorbacks most first-half competitive scoring 12 first-half points including 2 of 3 of Arkansas’ 5 of 9 first-half treys and making three steals.
Boston and the Gamecocks quickly showed there would be no Arkansas second-half comeback finishing the third quarter up 67-49.
Photos courtesy of Craven Whittlow, CW3, Sports Action