It’s on the Shoulders of Lady Razorbacks Now vs LSU’s “Musselman on Steroids”

Kim Mulkey, Samara Spencer, LSU basketball, Arkansas basketball, Arkansas vs LSU
photo credit: LSU Athletics / Arkansas Athletics

It’s on the shoulders of the women now. 

With the men Razorbacks cratering to an 1-4 conference record to start the SEC season after Saturday’s belly flop against South Carolina, Razorback Nation’s appetite for their female counterparts to pick up the slack has perhaps never been higher.

As fans seek refuge from a subpar basketball season from the Muss Bus, the Razorbacks’ women’s basketball team may finally be ready to make some noise of their own. The Razorbacks are 2-2 in SEC play after four games with an overall record of 14-5 including a win over top-15 Florida State. 

Taking on LSU Basketball

On Sunday afternoon, the Hogs will take on the current crown jewel of women’s college basketball, defending national champion LSU, spearheaded by Angel Reese and Flau’jae Johnson. LSU basketball coach Kim Mulkey was unapologetically herself at Baylor to three national titles and now at LSU nothing has changed. Mulkey has always been brash, flamboyant and incredibly honest, including telling a reporter that she would turn an Elite Eight game she was coaching in off because the offense was so bad. Think Eric Musselman on steroids, if that’s even possible. She also was steadfast in defending Reese from public scrutiny during her curious absence earlier in the season.  

Speaking of curious absences, the female Hogs haven’t won an NCAA Tournament game in eight straight seasons. Now’s as good a time as any to look at how the Hogs are finally bonding together to break that dry spell.

First, this Arkansas basketball squad is playing better than ever without its top scorer. Taliah Scott, the four-time SEC Freshman of the Week, has scored 15+ points in 14 of her 16 games but has not seen action since Jan. 4 against Kentucky due to a back injury and will likely miss the LSU game as well. In that time span the Razorbacks won by 40 against Georgia at home a day after their counterparts got run out of Bud Walton by Auburn. They also already have a double-digit win on the road against Alabama. Its two losses were nail-biters down the stretch to Kentucky and Mississippi State.  

The veterans of the team have stepped up in a massive way and led the team to two SEC wins for a .500 start in conference play including that detonation against Georgia. The Razorbacks were led by four different players with at least 15 points including the veteran backcourt of Samara Spencer and Makayla Daniels against Georgia. Spencer had 31 points against Alabama and took over the game down the stretch. Maryam Dauda set a school record with 10 blocks against Alabama. Saylor Poffenbarger, meanwhile, ranks second nationally with 12.8 rebounds a game. All four ladies are in at least their third season in the program, leading to cohesion that is clearly paying dividends.

Important Juncture for Arkansas Basketball

It comes at a perfect juncture for Neighbors as well, who is quietly running out of time to turn the program around. In his seventh season, the Arkansas native is still searching for his first NCAA tournament win after leading Washington to a Final Four appearance at his previous stop with the help of now WNBA All-Star and Champion Kelsey Plum. 

“Our offensive and defensive efficiencies are as close as they have ever been,” Neighbors said after the most recent victory over Alabama.  “We’ve been pretty lopsided. I’m going to come back to the word ‘proud.’ I’m proud of everybody because it takes a lot of work … I’m going to get a thesaurus and find a better word than proud. 

That pride is about to be put to an ultimate tes on the road against No. 10 LSU. The 17-2 Tigers are coming off a loss against an unranked Auburn team before bouncing back against Alabama. 

The Razorbacks are also looking for revenge after coming so close last year to a marquee win on the road which would have certainly bolstered its chances to make the NCAA tournament (they ultimately failed to do that).. Unlike the severe roster turnover that has taken over men’s college basketball, there are plenty of returners on both teams, setting the stage for a marquee matchup with both teams needing a win. LSU to keep its SEC crown jewel status and Arkansas looking to crash through and establish itself as a crown jewel after a few years away. 

“We’ve played well down there,” Neighbors said. “I hope that continues. I think when games require fight and aggressiveness, we usually respond pretty well. I think the recent memories are good. We hit a three that would have put us up by five with under a minute to play that got called off by a moving screen . We had a really good opportunity to win down there. I think our kids will build off that confidence. 

Very few folks are expecting Arkansas to win, but in order to break through, sooner rather than later, Mike Neighbors’ squad is going to have to pinch a marquee game to introduce themselves nationally. Now might just be the time to do it. Tipoff is scheduled from Pete Maravich Assembly Center in Baton Rouge La. 4 p.m. Jan. 21. The game will be broadcast on ESPN.

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