The 36 degree temperature outside had nothing on the frigid shooting that Arkansas' women got off to in the first game of the Jimmy Dykes era.
A woeful 7-of-30 stretch from the field and 5-of-12 from the free throw line in the first 20 minutes left the Lady Razorbacks trailing 22-21 at halftime.
But Melissa Wolff's double-double of 17 points and 13 rebounds, an 11-0 run to start the second half and 50 percent shooting from the floor after halftime allowed Arkansas to down Nicholls 63-52 Friday morning before 4,596 fans on Elementary Day fans at Bud Walton Arena.
“It's great to win that first game, but I didn't come here win one game, I came here to build a program,” noted Dykes, the eighth head coach in the program's history. “Had we won or lost today really didn't concern me in terms of my big picture and my purpose in being here. It is great to win that first one and now we go right back upstairs to continue to build this program to what I know it is going to be someday.”
Jhasmin Bowen added her own double with 12 points and 10 rebounds while Jessica Jackson added 12 points and 7 rebounds, Kelsey Brooks 11 points and 4 steals and Cali Berna 9 points and 8 rebounds for the Lady Razorbacks in their first game under Dykes, the eighth head coach in Arkansas women's history.
Jenny Nash had 15 points, Hope Pawlowski 11 and Emani White 10 for Nicholls, who shot just 33.9 percent from the field in the game.
“That is a team that won 17, 18 games last season and had four starters back,” Dykes said. “I think they will play their way through their conference and make it to the NCAA Tournament. They had a bog front line and have a terrific little point guard that came in averaging 19 points a game last year.
“Our defense was terrific,” Dykes added. “When you are in a ball game at halftime and at halftime we were shooting 23 percent from the field, 16 percent from three and 41 percent from the free throw line and we were down one. I walked into my locker room and it was a little quiet and I said get your heads up. Goodness gracious, if we make lay ups and free throws we are going to win this thing. I know we can fix that, but I am very, very proud of our defense.”
Dykes, who has just nine players on his roster, knew his team was going to be in for a tough fight, but the fact that his team dominated on the boards 53-26 was a joy for him to see.
“This morning at 7:30 I talked about this is not going to be a basketball game as much as it is going to be a fight because I knew this team was good,” Dykes said. “I reminded them of that before the game, I talked to them about it at halftime. Every time out in the second half, my message was keep fighting. That is who we are going to be going forward.”
“You look at Melissa Wolff and Jhasmin Bowen – they are 5-11 and 6-1 – and they combine for 29 points and 23 rebounds against a much bigger front line,” Dykes added. “You don't do that unless you are ready to fight. My team has learned how to fight under me the first six or seven months. Very, very proud of what they did today.
“We didn't shoot the ball well and it continues to be a concern for me offensively how we are going to score points,” Dykes continued. “But I thought overall, I love our effort and I loved our togetherness. We never broke apart. We never separated when we could have. That team put pressure on us a lot.”
The 11-0 run was big as the Lady Razorbacks turned a one-point deficit into a 32-22 lead.
“We talked about it right before we broke the huddle,” Dykes said. “We have to come back out and get control of this game...I thought we came out with energy. I was very, very pleased with our conditioning. They went a whole lot deeper on their bench and extended their minutes and were able spread their minutes better than we did.”
Dykes' five starters all played over 30 minutes on a day when Arkansas ended up shooting 36.2 percent (21-of-58) from the field, 31.6 percent (7-of-22) from 3-point range and 56 percent (14-of-25) from the free throw line.
“I played 35, 37, 30, 40 and 32 with my starters and I know some of it was ugly basketball,” Dykes said. “My assistant coaches were saying call timeout and was saying 'we are tired, but they are more tired.' We kind of extended our lead right there.
“I actually wanted to refund people their money during that three or four-minute stretch that was not pretty...I told them you can be tired, but don't act tired,” Dykes added.
Arkansas had 18 turnovers during the game while forcing 11.
“We may have tried to play a little too fast at times, but we are not a team that is going to turn it over 18 times a game,” Dykes said. “I trust our good ball handlers. We are not a team that is going to force turnovers. We can't. I've got nine players and we are not going to be able to extend the floor and pressure people and turn them over. We have to just lock in and be Wild Hogs on the defensive end and force shots and only give them one. I thought we did a good job of that.”
He was extremely pleased with the crowd, which included elementary students from many Northwest Arkansas schools.
“I loved our fans today,” Dykes said. “The elementary kids, they were great. I told our players in the locker room that it wasn't too long ago that they were a little kid, a little girl. They had dreams of someday maybe playing in a game like this, in an arena like this for a team like the University of Arkansas.
“I told them there would be eyes on you today as young ladies,” Dykes added. “I want to take that floor and play and I don't care about missed shots, I don't care missed lay ups. I wish I hadn't said it now because we did it. But I want them to walk away looking at 'wow, I saw how Jessica Jackson played the game, I saw how Melissa Wolff, Jhasmin Bowen, Cali Berna.' I wanted them to walk out of this building saying 'maybe that can be me someday.'”
Arkansas returns to the court on Sunday when it plays Savannah State at 1 p.m. - a game that will precede the Razorbacks' season opener with Alabama State at 4 p.m.
Photos by Jason Ivester
Melissa Wolff had a monster game with 17 points and 13 rebounds.
Jhasmin Bowen also had a double-double with 12 points and 10 rebounds.
Arkansas' Jessica Jackson drives to the basket.
Kelsey Brooks dives between a pair of Nicholls defenders.
Former Arkansas point guard and current assistant Christy Smith yells instructions.
Arkansas 63, Nicholls 52
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