Nate Allen Sports
FAYETTEVILLE – Chelsea Dungee revived Arkansas’ women from a 17-point deficit for a brief, 71-70 lead with 1:39 left. But even Dungee’s 32-points second-half finishing a career high 41 points, playing all 40 minutes couldn’t avert the Razorbacks’ fourth consecutive SEC defeat.
The Auburn Tigers edged the Razorbacks, 75-72 Sunday afternoon at Walton Arena partially blocking Dungee’s shot with seven seconds left and Arkansas trailing, 72-71 before the Tigers closed sinking three more free throws to Arkansas’ one.
Auburn exited Fayetteville 18-6 overall, 6-5 in the SEC while Arkansas dropped to 16-9, 5-6.
Dungee’s 41 points are the most scored by a SEC player this season and drew superlatives both from Arkansas Coach Mike Neighbors and Auburn Coach Terri Williams-Flournoy.
“You mean when Dungee went off?” Williams-Flournoy responded with a question to the question of how Arkansas got back in the game. “That’s what happened. She started hurting us and we don’t play man well but there was no way we could play zone and let them hit threes. So Dungee (4 of 7 treys and 17 of 19 free throws) got off.”
Dungee said she couldn’t have gone off without her teammates trusting that she was on.
“It feels good because I know my teammates have my back,” Dungee said. “They trust if I put up a shot it’s going to be a good shot or a drive and kick to the shooter that we have. They have confidence in me and I have confidence in them.”
Neighbors, surmised, “Game respects game,” of the Dungee and teammates’ mutual respect.
The coach marveled at his sophomore guard redshirted at Arkansas last season after transferring as an All-Big 12 freshman at the University of Oklahoma.
Recently Dungee and Arkansas senior guard Malica Monk of North Little have been a virtual 2-women Arkansas offensive show but Monk injured her ankle with 1:51 left in the second quarter. Monk then injured her hand upon her late third-quarter return before returning again to gut it out through the game’s final 10 minutes.
“Chelsea’s performance was as I’ve good ever seen a kid have,” Neighbors said. “Especially in the circumstances of knowing we were needing it and not being reluctant when her number was called. It doesn’t surprise me. She works at it and gotten herself into pro shape and to play the entire 40 minutes against that caliber of team and do what she did … I had a lot of alumni here saying it was the best they’ve ever seen in this building.”
With Monk, just two points, either absent 11 minutes and playing hurt from 1:51 in the second quarter on, the Razorbacks were handicapped but she provided a fourth-quarter offensive and defensive force, four assists, five rebounds, and a steal.
“Monk is always a problem,” Flournoy-Williams said of the point guard against Auburn’s pressing defense. “We never turn Arkansas over like we turn other teams because Monk is just good. She dribbles right through us.”
Neighbors said considering the initially appearing severity of Monk’s ankle injury that she could return and again showing her toughness shaking off the hand injury “was big. Her return in the fourth quarter gave us a spark and she was really, really good down the stretch.”
Senior reserve guard Raven Northcross-Baker of Malvern, 12 points including 4 of 7 treys that figured in Flournoy-Williams abandoning her preferred zone defense, lent Dungee the most offensive Arkansas support while starting guard Jailyn Mason scored nine.
Balanced scoring paced Auburn with Daisa Alexander scoring 18, Unique Thompson and Janiah McKay each scoring 13 and Robyn Benton scoring 11.
Technical fouls figured prominently down the stretch. The Arkansas bench was charged with a technical upon Kiara Williams called for a controversial charging call with 3:48 left in the game and Arkansas down 65-61 become 67-61 on McKay sinking the awarded free throws.
“We we were told that it was issued because one of our assistant coaches left our bench,” Neighbors said. “The assistant coach was trying to get me not to go on the floor which is exactly what we are taught to do as assistant coaches our entire lives. We are taught to protect the head coach. I’m not sure I can comment without talking to Commissioner Sankey tomorrow so I’m not going to.”
With 1:39 left Dungee’s four free throws, two on Crystal Primm’s foul and two more on Primm’s ensuing technical foul, gave Arkansas its 71-70 lead.
“She showed a little too emotion on the foul,” Flournoy-Williams said when asked about Primm’s technical foul. “Since I can’t talk about the refs, that’s all I can say.”
Neighbors said his Razorbacks played “tentative” in the first half that Auburn led, 38-24 propelled by a 20-9 second quarter but roared back with the 25-15 fourth quarter that he second guesses for a timeout with 27 seconds left on the game clock and seven seconds on the shot clock up 71-70.
Auburn defensed the inbounds well with Auburn’s Thompson trapping then stealing the ball from Arkansas reserve forward Taylah Thomas who fouled her setting up Thompson’s 72-71 go-ahead free throws with 22 seconds left.
“That was a play we’ve run at different places in the past,” Neighbors said. “ I didn’t think they would trap Taylah but they did. That’s on me. I’ll kick myself the rest of the week.”
Neighbors said Sunday’s loss actually was both easy to be proud of yet harder to swallow than Arkansas’ 71-34 disaster last Thursday at LSU.
“To come from the perspective of our last game and being down 17 and with Mal’s injury, a lot of teams would have quit,” Neighbors said. “That’s not what this team is about. We didn’t quit at LSU. We just didn’t play good there. But that loss is easier to take than this one because this one you dissect possession by possession from Possession One to 85. But to bounce back like we did against a really good team, there’s a lot of positives to draw from even though we’ll beat ourselves up for a day or two.”
Arkansas doesn’t play again until next Sunday’s SEC game at Kentucky.
Nate Allen Sports