Jump to the 30 greatest games of the women's basketball program
Women's basketball has been a part of the fabric of the University of Arkansas for almost a century. Teams of female students took to outdoor courts and peach baskets just after the turn of the century. While the women waited until 1976 for the first varsity team to officially represent the University, these early photos show how the game captured what was then deemed "the fairer sex" in action.
THE FIRST TEAM
Almost since the turn of the century, women have banded together to play basketball at the University of Arkansas. In fact, yearbook references to women's basketball predate men's basketball at Arkansas. Through the 1950s, some of the nation's best AAU teams came from the state of Arkansas. After years of "extramural" women's basketball in the late 1960s and early 1970s at the University, the first varsity Lady Razorback basketball team took the court in Barnhill Arena in 1976-77. Under Coach Sharon Ogle, these Lady'Backs established the winning tradition at Arkansas with a 10-6 season. Composed of walk-ons, the 1976-77 team was undefeated in Barnhill Arena (6-0) and set a school record for largest margin of victory that may never be broken-79 points- with a 108-29 win over Bartlesville Wesleyan. Three walk-ons received aid to become the first scholarship women at Arkansas: Camille Yancey of Marvel, Pat Keck from Rogers, and Carol Ann Riggs of Fayetteville.
IN THE BROYLES TRADITION
The next season, the University of Arkansas awarded its first women's athletic scholarship to a freshman recruit. A local basketball star at Fayetteville High, Betsy Broyles, became the first Lady Razorback high school recruit, one of ten women recruited during the 1977-78 season. Wearing No. 30 for Arkansas, Betsy, daughter of men's athletic director Frank Broyles, had her playing career cut short by an injury, but she did letter two seasons at Arkansas.
ARKANSAS' FIRST SUPERSTAR
Wynne, Ark.'s Bettye Fiscus arrived at the University in 1981, and Lady Razorback basketball was never the same. Fiscus set the University record for scoring-man or woman-at 2,073 as Arkansas' first all-American. While NBA star Todd Day finally broke Fiscus' scoring mark, she still holds almost all the Lady Razorback career scoring records. Her jersey-No. 5-was the first retired by the University, receiving that honor in 1986.
FIRST NATIONAL CHAMPIONS
A senior-laden Lady Razorback club that had advanced to the NCAA Tournament in 1986 received the snub of the committee in 1987. Behind co-captain guard Tracy Webb, the 1986-87 team wrecked its vengeance on the National Women's Invitational Tournament, sweeping through the postseason tournament to bring home the first team national title for a women's squad at Arkansas. Arkansas averaged over 100 points per game for the tournament, crushing California, 112-80, in the championship game.
"DIALING" FOR TROPHIES
Arkansas and the Dial Soap Women's Basketball Classic series had a long, distinguished history. The Dial Classics were the longest running series in women's hoops. Arkansas had the unofficial distinction of winning more Dial trophies than any team. In fact, the Lady'Backs played in eight different Dial tournaments in eight seasons, winning trophies in six. This past record combined with increasing promotions led to Arkansas receiving the right to host one of the coveted tournaments, bringing the Dial series to Fayetteville in 1991 until the series was disbanded in 1997.
THE SHOTS HEARD
'ROUND THE WORLD
On Feb. 25, 1990, Arkansas ended the longest conference winning streak in NCAA history by defeating the Texas Lady Longhorns, 82-77. The win broke UT's 183-game streak against Southwest Conference foes, and cleared the way for the first non-Texas SWC women's basketball titlist. It also ended the nation's longest active home win streak at 47 games. Senior guard Juliet Jackson, who hit six free throws in the closing minute to clinch the game, summed it up best: "We messed up all their streaks." The next week junior center Delmonica DeHorney was named Sports Illustrated women's college basketball player of the week.
ONLY SWC WOMEN'S TROPHIES
OUTSIDE THE LONE STAR STATE
Arkansas was the first team to beat Texas and the first team to win a share, then later an outright, Southwest Conference championship besides the Lady Longhorns. In 1991, Arkansas also ended the Lone Star state's dominance of the SWC tournament by defeating Texas Tech for the title. These three trophies-the 1990 and 1991 SWC Championship and 1991 SWC Classic-are the only women's basketball trophies in captivity outside the state of Texas.
While Delmonica DeHorney may have several notable seconds in her resume- second Lady'Back player to have her jersey (50) retired, second Lady'Back to play professional basketball, second all-time leading scorer (1,785)-she claims one of the most significant firsts: the first Kodak All-American at the University of Arkansas. DeHorney also is in the record books as the all-time leader in field goal percentage and blocked shots for a career. Her domination in the paint carried Arkansas to the 1990 NCAA West Regional Finals and to the 1991 NCAA Sweet 16. A two-time SWC Player of the Year, Delmonica is the only women's basketball player in SWC history to earn three conference honors. She was SWC Newcomer of the Year as a freshman. DeHorney was inducted into the Hall of Honor in 2000.
Beginning with the 1989-90 season, the Lady'Backs declared W.A.R. (Women's Attendance Record) on a select opponent. The first two W.A.R.s were against Texas, and resulted in the two largest crowds at Barnhill for a women's basketball game. Upon entering the SEC, Arkansas had a Border W.A.R. with LSU. W.A.R. IV featured the 24th-ranked Kentucky Lady Kats. Arkansas' feared home crowd worked its Barnhill magic in the last three W.A.R.s. The last two years were particularly dramatic as the Lady'Back fans rallied Arkansas from halftime deficits.
BY EVERY MEASURE
No other point guard in Arkansas history had a career that can match Newark's Amber Nicholas. In her four years, she never missed a game, playing 117 consecutive games, and she set the record for the most consecutive games started: 87. Nicholas set the school record for career assists, and her steady hand guided Arkansas to the best record of any four year period in school history. Named the MVP of the 1991 SWC Tournament, Nicholas also earned three Dial MVP awards in consecutive seasons. One of the most beloved Lady'Backs, Nicholas also was a two-time selection to the highly prestigious CoSIDA Academic All-America team and received an NCAA Postgraduate Scholarship. She was inducted into the Hall of Honor in 2002.
THE NATION COMES
At the end of the 1993-94 season, the University of Arkansas Women's Athletics Department hosted the first major NCAA championship event held in the state of Arkansas. The 1994 NCAA Division I Women's Basketball Mideast Regional set marks for regional attendance and hospitality. A true community project, one of the highlights was a street party and battle of the bands on the downtown square called Fayetteville Friday Night for the two teams in Saturday's championship game. Louisiana Tech advanced from Fayetteville to the Final Four with upsets of No. 1-ranked Tennessee and Lisa Leslie's USC Trojans.
A MOMENT IN TIME
As the Lady Razorbacks prepared to move to Bud Walton Arena in December 1993, the Women's Athletics Department held a celebration of 17 years of women's hoops in Barnhill Arena with "A Moment in Time." The banquet held in Barnhill was attended by dozens of former Lady'Backs, including three of the four career leaders. A special retrospective video tracing the Lady'Backs and their winning tradition in Barnhill was screened as a part of the festivities.
THE CARDIAC KIDS
The 1994-95 season saw the Lady Razorbacks return to the Associated Press Top 25 and the NCAA tournament, posting a 23-7 record. Arkansas did it by winning nine games in the closing minute, three games on last shots, with a team composed mostly of freshmen and sophomores.
A STREAK UNEQUALLED
The first freshman recruit to start opening day at point guard for Arkansas, Christy Smith earned attention for her free throw shooting-89.9% to lead the nation-and her tenacious defense-leading the SEC in steals with 3.0 per game. But on Dec. 6, 1995, Smith took her first step toward a mark that might stand for all time. The 5-6 West Lafayette, Ind., point guard started that night against Alabama, and did not leave the court against a SEC opponent for the rest of the season. For all 11 regular season games and two SEC tournament games, Smith played 525 consecutive minutes-a feat unequalled by man or woman in the league. The 1995 SEC Freshman of the Year, Smith also became Arkansas' first woman named to the Associated Press All-America team as an honorable mention.
A PRESIDENTIAL VISIT
Usually, the national champion visits the President of the United States in the White House. On Dec. 9, 1996, President Bill Clinton visited the Lady Razorbacks in their locker room during halftime of the Razorbacks' game with Cincinnati. It may be the first time a sitting President has dropped in to the locker room of a collegiate women's basketball team, and as luck would have it, it was not the last time the Lady'Backs posed with the President. It wouldn’t be the last time the Lady’Backs meet their First Fan. In 1998 during a road trip to Washington, DC, the team had a private tour of the Oval Office and West Wing of the White House, led by none other than President Clinton.
On March 9, 1998, the Lady Razorbacks wanted to get back into the NCAA Tournament. By March 27, 1998, they were in the NCAA Final Four, living the dream they had wished for years. Arkansas made NCAA Tournament history as the lowest seed -- #9 in the West -- to advance to the Final Four. They were the first unranked team in women's basketball history during the modern era to reach the Final Four. And, they were the lowest finishing team in conference play -- tied for sixth in the SEC -- to reach the Final Four. Arkansas did it all on the west coast, spending two whole weeks in the Bay Area. Along the way, the Lady'Backs beat three conference champions -- WAC, Pacific, Ivy and ACC -- and three ranked teams -- Hawai'i, Kansas and Duke -- to face conference rival Tennessee at Kansas City.
Arkansas played all four of its pre-Final Four games on late night TV, earning the nickname of Good Morning America's team. Every member of the team contributed to the run, starting with a 24-point effort by Karyn Karlin in the opening round win over #20 Hawai'i, 76-70. Then it was freshman Wendi Willits' turn with a near-NCAA record six three-pointers to blow open Arkansas' second round contest with Harvard, 82-64. In the opening round games held at Stanford, Calif., Christy Smith had zero turnovers and 16 assists.
At the West Regionals in Oakland, junior Sytia Messer stepped to the front as Arkansas' leading scorer in both wins, earning herself the honor as the most outstanding player at the West Regional. Messer had 23 points as Arkansas used an impressive 54-point second half to dispatch Kansas, 79-63, in the Sweet 16. Fellow junior Treva Christensen announced herself with 14 points off the bench against Duke to earn all-tournament selection. Junior Tennille Adams was 6-of-9 with 14 off the bench including the go-ahead bucket in the closing minutes against Duke.
The defining moment belonged to Smith, as she calmly sank four free throws in the final seconds to send Arkansas to the Final Four for the first time with a 77-72 win over ACC champion Duke.
When the 1999 season ended, Arkansas was 15-14 and 11th in the SEC. Leading scorer Karyn Karlin was out for the year with a torn ACL. Not the ending Cinderella hoped for after the Final Four. But Arkansas got a second chance with the WNIT, and by virtue of its season attendance was chosen to host the opener with SLC champion Northwestern State. Sophomore Lonniya Bragg, quiet most of the season, tore into NSU for a career- tying 22 points. Arena conflicts helped Arkansas host round two, and a late-season snowstorm led to the smallest crowd at Bud Walton for women's basketball (890). Those that braved the weather saw a sophomore class record 35 points as Okie Wendi Willits busted the Sooners in an overtime thriller, 97-93. The crowds began to pour back into Bud Walton, and Arkansas survived Rice, 76-70, in the quarterfinals thanks to 18 from Bragg. The WNIT picked Arkansas to host again, and the crowd and the Lady'Backs did not disappoint as 9,041 saw 5-11 Bragg rack up a career-high 23 against the 6-5 and 6-4 posts of MVC runner-up Drake in a 80-56 rout. It set the stage for a titanic showdown at Walton with Wisconsin. An all-time record 14,163 paid to see Arkansas win the title behind an inspired senior performance from Kamara Stancle with 15 points and 13 rebounds. The victory was marred by the sudden illness and death of Sytia Messer's mother on the eve of the game.
Wendi Willits shattered all of Arkansas' three-point records during the 1998-99 season. More impressive, the 5-8 Fort Cobb, Okla., sophomore came within a single trey of breaking a previously thought unbreakable SEC record -- Cornelia Gayden's single season mark. Willits finished with 104, shooting 35.7% from the arc. Ranking top five in the nation in both percentage and production, Willits was chosen by the Basketball Hall of Fame as its Ed Steitz Award winner. Her uniform, complete with her trademark headband, was displayed for the 1999-2000 season at the Basketball Hall of Fame in Springfield, Mass. Her senior year, she became the No. 2 three-point scorer in SEC history as well as the all-time leader at Arkansas. Willits closed her career at the ESPN College Three-Point Shooting Contest, where she reached the Final Four.
Point guard Amy Wright started the second century of Lady'Back basketball by shattering a once-thought-untouchable record of 186 assists in a season set by Donna Wilson in 1989. Wright's 198 led Arkansas back into the NCAA Tournament second round in 2001, and left her in striking distance for her senior season of the all-time leader, Amber Nicholas Shirey. For her final season, Wright not only took the career record early on, but she broke her own season mark to become the first woman to go over 200 in a season with 205 and close her career with 717.
USA, USA, USA
Hot Springs, Ark., native Shameka Christon became the first Lady Razorback basketball player to represent the United States at the World Championships. The Freshman All-SEC pick came home with the bronze medal at the 2001 FIBA Junior World Championship. She backed it up her sophomore summer, earning a spot on the 2002 COPABA World Young Women's Championship Qualifying Team that captured the gold medal in Brazil and secured for USA Basketball a slot in the upcoming 2003 FIBA Young Women's Championship.
THE WOMAN OF
Shameka Christon equaled the international start of her career at Arkansas with a fantastic finish. The first player at Arkansas to lead her conference in scoring since Delmonica DeHorney in 1991, Christon averaged over 20 ppg to lead the SEC from start to finish. Closing her career ranked second only to DeHorney with 1,763 points, Christon captured several career records and became the first Lady’Back voted SEC Player of the Year. She swept the coaches and Associated Press honor, and added all-America honors from both groups. Voted Kodak All-America honorable mention and All-Region 3, Christon became the first-ever Associated Press All-American at Arkansas with a third-team selection. She closed her career as the first Lady’Back selected in the first round of the WNBA draft, picked fifth overall by the New York Liberty.
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