In addition to the basketball displays in the Lady Razorback Museum, the women’s basketball team also has trophy cases at Bud Walton Arena. Here is the script of the displays in the Tommy Boyer Hall of Champions at Walton.
Since the turn of the century, women have banded together to play basketball at the University of Arkansas. In fact in the Razorback Yearbook, women’s basketball predates men’s. Through the 1950s, some of the nation’s greatest AAU teams came from the state of Arkansas. After years of “extramural” teams in the 1960s and 1970s, the varsity era of Arkansas women’s basketball began in 1976.
The First Team
Composed of walk-ons, the 1976-77 team was undefeated at Barnhill Arena (6-0) and went 10-6 overall. They set one school record that may never be broken — largest margin of victory with a 79-point defeat of Bartlesville Wesleyan, 108-29.
The arrival of two of the state’s most celebrated girls basketball players, Bettye Fiscus from Wynne in 1981 and Tracy Webb from Batesville in 1983, started Arkansas toward national prominence. Fiscus led the 1982 team to the AIAW Championships while Webb paced Arkansas to its first NCAA appearance in 1986 and the NWIT Championship in 1987.
The greatest rebounder in Arkansas history, this Bakersfield, Calif., product pulled down 1,013 rebounds in her four years to finish second all-time in Southwest Conference history. An all-around threat, this Kodak All-America honorable mention holds the record for most points in a game and is the only player to average in double digits for points and rebounds in a season.
The SWC Championship Teams
Arkansas made women’s basketball history on Feb. 25, 1990, by ending the nation’s longest conference winning streak at 183 games by defeating the Texas Lady Longhorns at Austin, 82-77. The win gave Arkansas its first SWC women’s basketball title, and ended Texas’ domination of the league. The Lady Razorbacks swept the SWC regular season and SWC Classic the following season.
No other point guard at Arkansas can match Amber Nicholas’ career. From the small town of Newark, Ark., Nicholas guided the Lady’Backs to three NCAA tournament appearances, two SWC Championships and the 1991 SWC Classic title. A two-time all-SWC selection, she was the MVP of the 1991 SWC Classic. Arkansas all-time assist leader, she is the only player with over 1,000 points and 500 assists in a career. A two-time GTE/CoSIDA Academic All-American, she was NCAA Woman of the Year for the state and a NCAA Postgraduate Scholarship recipient.
Bettye Fiscus (1981-1985)
The First Lady of women’s basketball at Arkansas, Fiscus scored 2,073 points during her career — most for any player until NBA star Todd Day — and remains the Lady’Backs’ career top scorer. She was the first star player, first player to have her jersey retired and the first woman inducted into the Arkansas Hall of Honor. Although her career ended in 1985, many of her records remain including career scoring average (18.5 ppg), field goals made (794) and free throws made (485).
Delmonica DeHorney (1987-91)
Arkansas’ first Kodak All-American, DeHorney was the only player in SWC history to receive three conference awards — Newcomer of the Year in 1988 and two-time Player of the Year in 1990 and 1991. Second in career scoring at 1,785 points, she led Arkansas to the brink of the Final Four in 1990 as the NCAA West Region finalist. Arkansas’ career leader in blocked shots, the 6-4 Poteau, Okla., center was Sports Illustrated’s Player of the Week when Arkansas upset Texas in 1990. She was inducted into the Arkansas Hall of Honor in 2000, the second women’s basketball player selected.
MOMENT IN TIME
As the Lady Razorbacks prepared to move to Bud Walton Arena in December 1993, the Women’s Athletic Department held a celebration of the 17 years of women’s hoops at Barnhill Arena with “A Moment in Time.” The four career leaders — Bettye Fiscus, Shelly Wallace, Amber Nicholas and Delmonica DeHorney — were honored on commemorative tickets of the first game in Bud Walton Arena.
As the 1990s got underway, Arkansas was in a new conference and discovered new offensive power from three-point range. Straight from Hampton High in south Arkansas, Kimberly Wilson set the standard for long-range scoring. One of the nation’s top three-point shooters her junior and senior seasons, Wilson regularly drained shots from 25 feet. Her shooting earned her an invitation to the inaugural WNBA training camp in 1997.
The Class of 1994
Perhaps the most productive recruiting class to date, Christy Smith, Karen Jones, Tiffany Wright and Treva Christensen carried Arkansas women’s basketball to new heights. Each left her own mark on the University, and all four graduated in 1998. Smith, Jones and Wright ended their playing career at the 1998 NCAA Final Four, while a sophomore season injury allowed Christensen a fifth year to help lead the Lady’Backs to the 1999 Women’s NIT Championship.
One of the most famous Lady Razorbacks, Christy Smith was a four-time AP honorable mention all-American. From her 1995 SEC Freshman of the Year award through 1998 all-SEC first team, the West Lafayette, Ind., point guard took Arkansas women’s basketball to the next level. Her intensity was her trademark, leading the nation in free throw percentage as a freshman and playing every minute — 525 consecutive — of every SEC game in 1995. Her sophomore season knee injury kept her from breaking many career marks, but did not keep her from her ultimate goal: leading Arkansas to the Final Four.
The 1998 Final Four
The 1998 NCAA Tournament sent Arkansas to the West Regional, prompting Gary Blair to dub his Lady’Backs’ Good Morning America’s Team since sleepy fans often resorted to checking the morning news to see if Arkansas had advanced. The late night starts and the two-week odyssey in the Bay Area were just what the Lady’Backs needed. Arkansas started at the Stanford-hosted first and second round in Palo Alto, then moved across the bay to Oakland for the West Regional.
Aloha means hello, but for the 20th-ranked Wahine it was goodbye as freshman Wendi Willits made her first career start. Willits canned four consecutive threes to give Arkansas the early lead. Sophomore Karyn Karlin closed the door with 24 points to lead Arkansas to a 76-70 opening round win.
Only one Cinderella would survive as Arkansas dumped Ivy League champion Harvard, 82-64, in the West second round. The first 16 seed to win a first round game fell to Christy Smith’s near flawless direction of Arkansas’ offense: 19 points, 11 assists and zero turnovers.
Arkansas trailed Kansas, 32-28, at halftime. In Locker Room G of the New Arena at Oakland, it looked like the Lady’Backs season would end at the Sweet 16. When Arkansas emerged from halftime, Sytia Messer led a 51-point second half rally. Messer’s 17 points in the final 20 minutes were crucial as the Lady’Backs dominated the Big 12 Jayhawks for a 79-63 win.
Often a man of too many words, Gary Blair remained silent the entire ride to the arena for the 1998 NCAA West Regional Championship. When the bus stopped, he stood up. “Don’t get off the bus if you don’t expect to win,” he said. He turned, and left the bus.
Until this game, the tournament run was a series of individual players taking their turns against different teams. Against the ACC Champions, each Lady’Back stepped up from all-tournament pick Treva Christensen and Tennille Adams off the bench to West MVP Sytia Messer’s 20 points. In the end, Duke was forced to foul and Christy Smith calmly sank four free throw to send the Lady’Backs to the Final Four, 77-72.
“Do You Believe in Fairy Tales?”
Fulfilling ESPN announcer Beth Mullins’ prediction, the 1998 Lady’Backs made NCAA women’s basketball history. Arkansas became the lowest seeded team — ninth , the first unranked team and the lowest regular season conference finish — sixth place, to reach the Final Four.
Five Games to Glory
The 1999 Lady Razorback team faced the toughest schedule in school history, several key injuries and the reputation of being a Final Four team. When the regular season ended at 15-14 and 11th in the SEC, Arkansas accepted a bid into the Women’s NIT. The Lady’Backs dispatched Southland champion Northwestern State, 78-60, then bounced Big 12 power Oklahoma, 97-93, in a dramatic overtime game highlighted by a record-setting 35 points from Wendi Willits. Starting with the third round against Rice, Arkansas fans began to pour into Bud Walton Arena to back the Lady’Backs. Arkansas downed Rice, 76-70, to reach its second national semifinal game in as many seasons. Behind a career high 23 from Lonniya Bragg, Arkansas pounded the MVC runner-up Drake Bulldogs, 80-56. Thanks to 9,041 fans at Drake, Arkansas had the privilege of hosting the 1999 WNIT Championship game against Wisconsin. An Arkansas and WNIT record 14,161 watched as senior Kamara Stancle notched a 15-point, 13-rebound double-double to lead the Lady’Backs to a 67-64 national championship. The 5-11 sophomore Bragg was named tournament MVP while senior Sytia Messer was voted all-tournament.
Wendi Willits — Three-Point Shooter of the Year
Sophomore Wendi Willits shattered Arkansas’ records for three-point shooting, and came within a single trey of break a once thought unbreakable SEC record. Gary Blair often said her 104 three-pointers for the 1998-99 season combined with her 46.0% accuracy made her one of the best scorers in America. The Basketball Hall of Fame confirmed that belief as the Fort Cobb, Okla., product was named the Ed Stites Three-Point Shooter of the Year. Honored in May 1999, Willits uniform, shoes and trademark headband went on display at the Springfield, Mass., Basketball Hall of Fame.