WACO, Texas (AP) — With a big comeback, the Arkansas women proved to first-year coach Jimmy Dykes they weren’t satisfied with just being in the NCAA Tournament.
The Razorbacks wanted to keep playing, and they will after overcoming a 13-point second-half deficit to beat Northwestern 57-55 in a first-round game Friday.
“Big boost of confidence in our first year to be in the NCAA and then to win a game like we had to win,” said Dykes, the former Razorbacks player and ESPN analyst. “We just kept saying this is a fight more than a basketball game. Our guys love that. They love that theme.”
Jessica Jackson scored 14 points, including the tiebreaking free throw to make it 56-55 with 30 seconds left and give the Razorbacks their first lead after halftime
But Arkansas (18-13) missed three consecutive free throws after that, including Jackson’s second attempt that Melissa Wolff chased down the rebound near the sideline and called timeout with Northwestern players surrounding her.
“We continued every timeout to drive home offensive glass. Offensive glass. Keep throwing body blows, and one of these offensive rebounds is gonna win us the game,” Dykes said. “I think it ultimately did, the one by Melissa Wolff.”
Arkansas has 20 offensive rebounds, nine by Wolff, who scored 13 points and had 15 rebounds overall.
“Our goal wasn’t just to make it but to succeed when we got there and get a couple of wins and get as far as we can,” Wolff said. “I’m really proud of the way our girls battled. We’ve been battling all season like coach said.”
Kelsey Brooks had 15 points and Jhasmin Bowen 12 for Arkansas, the No. 10 seed in the Oklahoma City Regional.
Ashley Deary and Alex Cohen each had 13 points for Northwestern (23-9), which was in its first NCAA Tournament since 1997. Maggie Lyon had 12 points and Nia Coffey 11.
“I felt like we were in control in the second half and couldn’t finish it out,” Northwestern coach Joe McKeown said. “They made shots when they had to. Made a couple of plays, some and-ones. We just needed one more play and that was really the game.”
The Big Ten Wildcats opened the second half with three consecutive layups by Lyon, Deary and Coffey in a 75-second span to turn a halftime tie into a 29-23 lead. They led 48-35 on Coffey’s layup with 11:39 left.
Arkansas from the SEC cut the gap to a single possession by scoring 10 straight points. Calli Berna’s 3-pointer, her only points of the game, started the run with 8:16 left, before Brooks had a layup and Bowen a three-point play. Wolff’s jumper with 5:48 left got them within 51-49.
Northwestern didn’t score again after Cohen’s bank shot with 3:59 left put the Wildcats up 55-51.
After Wolff missed two free throws with 14 seconds left, Coffey got that rebound, and then rebounded her own miss. But she threw the ball right into the hands of Brooks.
“They were really physical on defense and we couldn’t get to the basket like we were doing during the stretch that gave us a 13-point lead,” McKeown said. “That was how that brought them back.”
Arkansas: The Razorbacks matched Northwestern 16-16 in the paint after halftime, after the Wildcats had a 14-0 edge in the first half. … Arkansas shot only 32 percent from the field (21 of 66).
Northwestern: McKeown coached his first NCAA Tournament game in his seven seasons with the Wildcats, after he went to the tournament 15 times in 19 seasons at George Washington, and twice in three seasons at New Mexico State. … The Wildcats were held 18 points below their season average.
Arkansas: The Razorbacks play host Baylor or in a second-round game Sunday.
Northwestern: Season over.
When asked about Arkansas’ 20 offensive rebounds, McKeown responded, “Obviously when you lose a game that you feel like you had great chances to win, you look back on those things and say ‘We didn’t block out on free throws. We gave them two shots at times in the second half.’ And that became the difference in the game.”
LONG DROUGHTS: After Brooks hit an 3-pointer for Arkansas for an early 5-2 lead, the Razorbacks missed eight shots in a row over a span of more than 6 minutes before Wolff’s jumper with 12:19 left and tied the game at 11-all. The Razorbacks had three scoreless stretches of at least 4
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