Nate Allen Sports
FAYETTEVILLE – The Arkansas Razorbacks and Mississippi State Bulldogs women’s basketball teams are in the same conference but not in the same league.
Though second-year Arkansas Coach Mike Neighbors has done a remarkable job recruiting to and developing the players he inherited from a downtrodden program, the Razorbacks are still no match for the nation’s No. 7 team and reigning national runner-up.
The Bulldogs of Vic Schaefer, formerly the top assistant to former Arkansas Coach Gary Blair when Neighbors was on Blair’s staff, advanced to 13-1 over rolling by the Razorbacks, 93-69 Thursday night at Walton Arena in the Southeastern Conference opener for both teams.
Arkansas, 11-4 overall/ 0-1 in the SEC, led only once on a 3-pointer by junior guard and Conway native Alexis Tolefree.
However it was Mississippi State’s Conway Wampus Cat, Jordan Danberry, a former Conway teammate with Tolefree and a former Razorback for a season and a half under former Arkansas Coach Jimmy Dykes before transferring to MSU, who starred immediately.
Danberry scored 14 points during State’s 28-17 first quarter. For the game Danberry celebrated her homecoming with a game-high 26 points and nine rebounds and dealt four assists.
The Bulldogs led 50-33 at half shooting 22 of 37 from the field and outrebounding Arkansas, 30-12 and 57-31 for the game.
Teaira McCowan, MSU’s 6-7 senior center, double-doubled well before halftime with 17 rebounds and 14 points at intermission that the Bulldogs led, 50-33 and increased outscoring Arkansas, 23-8 in the third quarter.
McCowan finished totaling 22 rebounds with 16 points while blocking three shots.
Arkansas lost by a lot but not without a fight from Chelsea Dungee. Dungee scored 25 and blocked four shots. Reserve forward Taylah Thomas scored 15 and Tolefree tallied 11 and did outscore the Bulldogs, 28-20 in the fourth quarter.
Neighbors lauded all three for their fight on a night he said “After we got punched in the mouth, they stayed positive when some others didn’t.”
Dungee said she approached the Bulldogs pressing defense “with the mindset that they can’t guard me.”
With those 25 points that proved true.
However overall the Bulldogs are just too big on the boards and certainly Danberry came too inspired for Arkansas to cope.
“That’s a problem for every team if you have somebody 6-7 if not bigger than that,” Dungee said. “It was difficult.”
Dungee still believed Arkansas could have made it closer.
“We knew what we had coming with Mississippi State,” Dungee said. “But there are things we could do better and we’ll learn from it. When you play teams like that you have to make shots and defensively not switching you can’t have those ‘Oops! My bad!”
Anything Danberry did proved good for Mississippi State.
“We expected that with her coming back to Arkansas,” Dungee said. “She probably had a point to prove. She played well.”
Danberry relished her homecoming.
“It’s really important for me to come back here my senior year and have Conway support me and Alexis,” Danberry said. “It was a really special night coming back before family and friends and playing against a teammate after we won a state championship together. Just special.”
Schaefer said, “Jo is the best at getting to her spot than any I’ve ever coached.”
Neighbors said he tried to recruit Danberry when he head coached the University of Washington and praised her and the entire Bulldogs team.
“Danberry had a great night,” Neighbors said. “As expected Mississippi State is one of the best teams in the country.”
In turn Schaefer said, these 11-4 Razorbacks are “completely different” than the 13-18 Razorbacks that the Bulldogs routed, 111-69 last season.
Dungee redshirted last year transferring from Oklahoma while Tolefree is a junior college transfer.
“Their skill set is better,” Schaefer said. “They are hard to guard. If you don’t meet Tolefree at the city limits she’s in her range. They are much better, and Mike’s got a good recruiting class coming in.”
Nate Allen Sports