Monday's second round Women's NIT showdown with Arkansas State was an opportunity for the Lady Indians, Arkansas State University and its followers to take out nearly 20 years of pent-up frustration and anger on its counterparts from Northwest Arkansas.
In front of 10,892, the fifth-largest crowd to ever watch a women's basketball game in the Natural State and a Convocation Center record, Arkansas State rallied behind a rabid fan base and beat the Lady'Backs 98-84 in the first meeting between the two teams since 1983.
"Everyone was dreaming for this day. It hasn't happened in forever. Especially for us. We were the ones that were able to win this game and other people never had the chance," said Arkansas State guard Ali Carter, who led the Lady Indians with 25 points.
It was the first time the two universities have faced off in any major sport since 1987 when the two men's programs played at Barnhill Arena and saw the Razorbacks come away with a victory.
Monday, Arkansas State's muffled chirp broke into a raucous environment at the Convocation Center.
The Lady Indians left no doubt who was the best team in the state.
"We only got one win tonight. We didn't get 10 wins," said Arkansas State coach Boyer said. "We still have to rally now and get to Iowa and into the quarterfinals. It wasn't our goal to get to the quarterfinals. It wasn't to get past Mississippi State, it wasn't to get past Arkansas. Our goal was to get into this NIT and win the sucker.
"Apart from that, the magnitude of this event is as big as anything I have been a part of. It is, obviously, as big as anything these fans have been a part of.
"I don't know why I was lucky enough to be a part of something historic like this."
Arkansas' second-year coach Susie Gardner credited the Convocation Center crowd for being hostile. Arkansas' cheering section was placed in the upper level of the Convocation Center, while loud Lady Indian fans were sitting directly behind the Lady'Backs bench.
"We do play at Knoxville (Tenn.) and at Georgia and a lot of locations that have a lot of fans in the stands," she said. "There is a difference between hostile and fans that support their team and good basketball and appreciate the game."
Gardner said she didn't know what to expect from the crowd and admitted she didn't understand the history of the no-play policy established by Arkansas' athletics department.
"I have a better feeling now (about the dynamic of the Arkansas-Arkansas State game)," Gardner said. "But, give me a break. I've never been here. You can't tell somebody how to feel. You can't tell somebody what love feels like or what hate feels like or emotions. So, I had no emotion. There is no reason for me to have emotion. I understand this game is a big, big deal to Arkansas State and now that I've experienced it, I can answer these questions. I had nothing to go on."
Arkansas State improved to 13-0 in Jonesboro and 21-10 overall to advance to the final eight of the WNIT and travel to play the Iowa Hawkeyes.
The Lady Indians never trailed and led by as many as 18 with 3:05 remaining in the game. Behind Carter, Rudy Sims, a 5-7 point guard added 20, including a pair of 3-pointers in key situations.
Arkansas State, which led 41-33 at halftime, shot 63 percent (17 of 27) from the floor in the second half. The Lady Indians forced Arkansas into 22 turnovers, while only committing 16.
The Lady Indians came out aggressive from the opening tip by attacking the basket with dribble penetration and backdoor cuts. Due to its aggressiveness, Arkansas State shot 51 free throws, fourth most in school history, making 37 of them. Arkansas was 15-24 from the free throw line.
"I thought we did a poor job," Gardner said. "I thought they did a great job taking it to the hole on us. Besides Adrienne Bush, no perimeter guard defended tonight like we normally do. This was not the defensive team I was accustomed to.
"We got semi-ball pressure, but they would cut over our top side and just do layups for heaven's sake. Where did that come from?"
Arkansas State's 98 points was a WNIT record as well as a Lady'Back record for points surrendered in a game this year and the most the Lady Indians had scored since 2002.
Arkansas' Sarah Pfeifer had the game of her life with a game-high 26 points on 12 of 18 shooting. During stretches during the game, Pfeifer was unguardable by hitting turnaround jump shots with ease and attacked the basket for layups. Her career effort wasn't enough.
"I wanted the ball the whole game," Pfeifer said. "That's just the way I am. I have that kind of confidence in my game."
Arkansas struggled the entire second half attempting to chip at the Lady Indians' lead. The Lady'Backs cut to within 71-64 with 6:23 remaining when Pfeifer converted a 3-point play which quieted the crowd for a moment. But after Arkansas State coach Brian Boyer called a timeout, the Lady Indians jumped on a 14-3 run to take their largest lead of the game, 85-67, with 3:06 to play.
"There came a point after the 10-minute mark left in this game where the emotion and the fans really carried us through because I don't know physically if we had enough to carry us through," Boyer said.
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