LAWRENCE, Kansas – The Arkansas Razorbacks ran into a Kansas twister as junior forward Danielle McCray scored 35 points in just 28 minutes to lead the Jayhawks to a 75-59 win in the third-round of the Women’s National Invitational Tournament.
Seniors Ayana Brereton and Whitney Jones led the Razorbacks in their final game at Arkansas. Brereton had 15 and Jones 11 as the Razorbacks, who closed the season at 18-14 while the Jayhawks moved to 20-13. Kansas advances to the WNIT fourth round to face the winner of Oregon State and New Mexico.
“Give our seniors a lot of credit, both for battling tonight and for the season,” UA head coach Tom Collen said.
As the game slipped away, Collen went to some of his less experience players to give them an opportunity in the post season, but the seniors approached him with a request.
“They came to me and asked if they could finish their careers on the court,” Collen said. “That’s the least we could do for them. They have been two of the hardest working players I’ve had in my two seasons at Arkansas, and for what they have done to help build the foundation of what’s about to come at Arkansas, they deserved to go out as they wished.”
In only the second visit to Allen Fieldhouse in the 33-year history of the Razorbacks, Arkansas could not overcome the combination of a poor-shooting first half and the rocket-hot shooting of McCray.
“She’s an All-American and might be the best player in the Big 12,” Collen said. “We’re a young team, and we struggled once we got down in the second half.”
Both teams had slow starts until Sade Morris cranked it up for the Jayhawks. Morris scored seven straight points, helping launch a 14-0 run for Kansas to give the Jayhawks a 19-5 lead with 11:46 in the first half. A three-pointer from Brereton snapped the three-minute scoring drought for Arkansas, but the damage was done.
The Jayhawks extended their lead to as many as 17 as McCray got her game on track. The Razorbacks used the free throw line to close back to a 13-point spread at halftime.
“We couldn’t find the bucket early in the game,” Collen said. “But we battled back early in the second half.”
Poor shooting crippled the Arkansas offense in the first half, hitting only 23% while the Jayhawks were well over 60% most of the period before cooling to 50%.
Foul trouble put McCray and Morris on the bench at the end of the first half, but before exiting they scored at almost a point-a-minute clip.
Razorbacks opened the second half with a 7-2 burst to get within single digits for the first time since the opening minutes, 38-30. McCray and Morris responded for Kansas to put the Jayhawks back up by double digits.
“We came out of the locker room hard-nosed and fighting,” Collen said. “And we kept with them until the second run. We’re a young team, and when they looked up at the clock and saw that score later in the half, it was tough.”
A three from Brereton started a 7-0 run by Arkansas to get back to nine, 51-42, with 12:09. After a poor shooting first, the Razorbacks started the second half hitting almost 70% from the field.
Kansas weathered the Razorback storm and as the Arkansas shot cooled McCray got hot. The junior forward scored 18 of 19 Kansas points to lead the Jayhawks to a 60-42 lead with 7:24 to play.
“They (Kansas) is getting ready to make a run in the WNIT,” Collen said. “They could win the whole thing.”
A night of bumps and knocks for Arkansas saw Ceira Ricketts leave in the last two minutes with an injury, and both Shanita Arnold and Whitney Jones spent time on the bench with injuries. The Razorbacks played without junior Ashley McCray, out after a bruised knee in the previous round.
Ricketts finished with 10 for Arkansas, while Morris added 23 for Kansas.