By Nate Allen Sports
FAYETTEVILLE – Chelsea Dungee broke the Arkansas Razorbacks’ women’s single season scoring record and the Houston Cougars’ hearts on the same Thursday Women’s National Invitational Tournament first round night at Walton Arena.
Scoring 37 points, the Arkansas sophomore transfer guard via the University of Oklahoma led Arkansas turning back the determined Cougars, 88-80 in overtime Thursday and while doing so has tallied 724 points surpassing the Arkansas season high 692 points set by Shelley Wallace in 1989-89.
“I was aware of it (the scoring record),” Dungee replied when asked postgame. “My concern is the team advancing in this tournament as far as we can.”
Houston had the last shot in regulation before but missed on Dorian Branch’s 3-pointer before Dungee dominated the OT outscoring Houston, 8-7 by herself with Razorbacks Malica Monk, three, and Kiara Williams and Conway’s Alexis Tolefree, two each, scoring Arkansas’ other seven of its 15 overtime points.
Arkansas, 21-14, according to Arkansas Coach Mike Neighbors and other sources the last team considered before left out of the NCAA Tournament field then fighting for its WNIT life at home against Houston, advances to the WNIT second round at 2 p.m. Sunday at Walton against Alabama-Birmingham, a 93-89 first round winner Thursday night in Birmingham over Troy University.
Dungee hit 2 of 3 treys and 8 of 16 inside and 15 of 17 free throws mostly driving on the Cougars whose game belied their now 15-16 record as Neighbors predicted.
“I told you all they weren’t a 16-seed right?” Neighbors said postgame. “Everybody clear on that? This is a team that you look at the film you knew it would be 40-minutes plus and they really took it to us especially late in the third quarter and early in the fourth quarter but we regrouped and we really finished strongly.”
Especially with Dungee finally creating separation in a game that Arkansas had never led by more than five and Houston never more than its game opening 3-0 lead with the score tied 13 times including the 36-36 halftime and 73-73 close of regulation.
“She has that killer gene,” Neighbors said. “A lot of big-time scorers don’t have that killer gene but she’s got that get me the ball Jimmy Chitwood (from the movie Hoosiers) gene.”
Houston Coach Ronald Hughey marveled at Dungee postgame as he said he had marveled watching her game film
“We called her a 3-level scorer with 4-point range,” Hughey said. “She believes she can will her team to win and she did. She decided she’d be Kobe Bryant for her team and everyone else fell in line.”
Dungee received strong support from junior center Kiara Williams’ of Little Rock Central 15 points including 7 for 7 from the field and eight rebounds, and 13 points by senior point guard Malica Monk of North Little Rock.
Williams and alternating center Taylah Thomas were particularly pivotal, Neighbors said.
“When you have Kiara Williams and Taylah Thomas running the floor from the first possession of the game until the last it sets the tone with a compounding effect.”
The Razorbacks needed all they could muster as is Cougars tallied double-scoring figures. They were led by Octavia Barnes’ 19, Angela Harris 16, Julia Blackshell-Fair’s 15 and 10 each from Dorian Branch, Seritha Hawkins and Tatyana Hill. Hill came off the bench as did Blackshell-Fair.
Houston’s bench outscored Arkansas’ reserves, 25-7 but Neighbors cited key plays by senior reserves Raven Northcross-Baker of Malvern, and Bailey Zimmerman of St. Vincent and Thomas.
Zimmerman and Northcross-Baker were in the game when the Cougars, who had been hurting Arkansas inside, settled for Branch’s missed three closing regulation when Hughey had planned on a 73-73 tie-breaking drive inside.
Arkansas needed Dungee driving to get fouled and hit two free throws with 19 seconds left to tie it 73-73 in regulation before denying two Houston drives before Branch missed from the wing.
“We switched to a zone,” Neighbors said. “And Raven had a really good close-out and Bailey was in the game and her length (6-feet) is a little different than having (5-9) Jailyn there. That timeout we said we needed a stop.”
Hughey praised Arkansas, Neighbors and Dungee but did note that Arkansas attempted 34 free throws to Houston’s 15.
“That free throw discrepancy, Hughey said. “We’re a little leery about that. It was a huge difference maker. But we had an opportunity to win. We had our chances and to take it to overtime against a crowd like that.
Dungee appeared to have a tough call on her third foul on a bucket voiding charge call but after Williams’ first bucket of the overtime on a rebound follow got the “bang-bang” play her way, Neighbors said, playing with four fouls on the and-one bucket putting Arkansas up 78-73 with 3:44 left in OT as Hawkins tried to set for the charge but was called for the foul.
Down three was the closest Houston got thereafter. A Baker deflection leading to a Monk basket and one from getting fouled iced it with Arkansas up 84-75 with 33 seconds left in OT.
By Nate Allen Sports