HONOLULU – Freshman guard Donica Cosby dominated the second half with a game-high 24 points to lead the Arkansas Lady Razorbacks to a 70-56 win over the host University of Hawai’i at the Rainbow Wahine Classic.
Arkansas (7-0) advances to the championship game of the 26-year-old premier women’s basketball tournament to face the winner of second-ranked North Carolina and Gonzaga. Tipoff for the championship game is 9:30 central time. Hawai’i drops to 2-2 and faces the loser in the consolation game.
Rallying a sluggish Arkansas from a five-point halftime deficit, Cosby took over the game with 10 unanswered points near the start of the second half, including back to back walk-up three-pointers to break the game wide open for the Lady’Backs. By the time her scoring spree ended, Arkansas led 51-40 with 14 minutes left to play in the game and the Wahine never recovered.
“She was obviously feeling it,” UA head coach Susie Gardner said. “It was fun as the coach to watch her get into that zone. It didn’t matter if it was a drive or a three-pointer. Her confidence was contagious, and it was great for us as a team.”
“I felt confident, but most of all, I was trying to help the team,” Cosby said. “In the second half, we needed a lift. We all felt like someone needed to step up.”
Dispirited by Arkansas defense and Cosby’s antics, the Wahine were a shadow of their first-half effort that saw them dominate the lane and shut down Arkansas’ outside shooting.
“Our defense was strong, and it really was as much our defense as our offense,” Gardner said. “We made adjustments at half, and they started making mistakes.”
On the other hand, Arkansas was near perfect in the closing 20 minutes with only two turnovers and five for the game. The Lady’Backs came within a turnover of breaking one of the oldest school records as the all-time low as four against Wichita State back in 1982.
“It wasn’t something we were aware of during the game, but it certainly is something we’re proud of after the game,” Gardner said. “We’ve had our share of games this year with individuals making more turnovers than we had tonight.”
For all the stats, it came down to the freshmen efforts of Cosby and Tanisha Smith. Cosby finished the game as Arkansas’ assist leader with five off the bench and the second leading rebounder with six.
“They (Smith and Cosby) can penetrate a zone, and that will allow us to create against a zone,” Gardner said.
The Wahine inside game took advantage of Arkansas’ cold hand to put the Lady’Backs in a bind early in the game. The 2-3 zone forced the Lady’Backs to shoot from the outside and Arkansas did not have the touch early, missing it’s first five three-point attempts.
“We stood around too much early, and we let them outrebound us at halftime,” Gardner said. “We talked to them about stepping up and taking control of the rebounds. We did it in the second half, and that was a key to turning things around.”
Defense allowed Arkansas to stay close early, but a 10-0 run by UH sparked by four from Tanya Smith gave the Wahine the lead, 12-6.
Arkansas’ offense missed 10 straight free field goals during the 10-0 run, finally stopped by Smith’s three-pointer to launch a personal 6-0 run to tie the game at 12-12. Hawai’i responded with a six unanswered to regain control for the rest of the half.
Cosby had her first scoring spree to snap the Arkansas drought and keep Hawai’i from running away with the game at the close of the first half with eight straight points. Arkansas got within three after a three-point play from Dominique Washington, 32-29, before heading to the locker room down five, 36-31.
“We were standing still too much in the first half,” Gardner said. “We changed in the second half and began to run some of our man-to-man offenses against their zone to force more movement.”
For the game, Arkansas shot only 19% from behind the arc, but Cosby was 3-of-9. Hawai’i managed to outrebound Arkansas for the game, 48-36, but the Lady’Backs came out even on the offensive glass and junior Lauren Ervin rallied to give the team 11 rebounds despite her injured left hand. The 6-3 post is only two days removed from a compound dislocation suffered at practice in Hawai’i.
Smith closed the game with eight points, along with Sarah Pfeifer as Arkansas had balanced scoring outside of Cosby.
Brittany Grice and Taylor led UH with 15 each.