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Arkansas beats Wisconsin for WNIT championship
Posted: Tuesday March 23, 1999 11:59 PM
FAYETTEVILLE, Ark. (AP) -- Arkansas' Lady Razorbacks didn't find out until after they had beaten Wisconsin 76-64 to claim the Women's NIT championship that a team leader's mother had died before the start of the game.
Wendi Willits nailed a 3-point basket with 2:42 left to help Arkansas hold off a second-half comeback attempt by the Badgers.
The Lady Razorbacks (20-14) led by as much as 14 in the second half, but Wisconsin (18-14) cut the deficit to 53-52 at the 7:44 mark. The Badgers were still close at 58-55 when Willits came off a series of screens to swish the 3-pointer that provided the winning cushion.
"We played about as well as we could play," Wisconsin coach Jane Albright-Dieterle said. "The first half, we had trouble with their press. We gave up 15 points off turnovers. But in the second half we did a better job -- we only made five turnovers and made it a game."
The attendance of 14,161 set an Arkansas state record for a women's sporting event and came just three days after the Lady Razorbacks drew 9,041 in a semifinal victory over Drake. Bud Walton Arena holds 18,200.
Willits and Kamara Stancle led Arkansas with 15 points each. Tenille Adams added 13 points for the Lady Razorbacks. LaTonya Sims topped Wisconsin scorers with 21 points.
Stancle started in place of Sytia Messer, Arkansas' second-leading scorer on the season, who went to be with her mother at a Little Rock hospital after she suffered a heart attack Monday night. Messer still earned a place on the WNIT all-tournament team.
"Our players and our coaches were up all night at Sytia's home [in Fayetteville]," said Arkansas coach Gary Blair. 'She finally left ... at 4:30 [a.m.]. I know a lot of these players didn't get much sleep. I had one hour's sleep."
Messer's mother died Tuesday afternoon, but Blair waited until after the game to tell his players.
Blair thought fatigue from the emotional drain of the previous night played a part in Arkansas' inability to maintain its full-court press in the second half.
"But we got fuel from this crowd," Blair said. "You don't see that type crowd at a women's basketball game. Those people were our sixth man."
Arkansas' record for attendance at a women's basketball game had been 11,410, set last year when Auburn visited the Bud Walton Arena.
The Lady Razorbacks, after a trip to the Final Four last year, finished 11th in the SEC with a 5-9 record. The Badgers tied for fourth in the Big Ten with a 9-7 league mark.
Arkansas missed its first five shots, mostly from point-blank range, before finding the mark to sprint to a 23-10 lead at the 10-minute mark of the first half. Lonniya Bragg, a 5-11 sophomore post, outquicked the taller Badgers inside with six points and four assists in that spurt.
The Lady Razorbacks scored the final four points of the half for a 36-26 intermission lead. Treve Christensen took advantage of a defensive lapse as Arkansas held for the final shot to cap an uncontested jumper from the top of the key just ahead of the buzzer.
Arkansas forced 15 first-half turnovers with its full-court pressure while taking 14 more shots from the field. The Lady Razorbacks worked free inside out of their halfcourt offense, but hit only 44.4 percent to keep the Badgers in the game in the first half.
Wisconsin's Sims, who scored nine in the opening half, hit four outside jumpers late in the half to lead a mild comeback. The Badgers were within 30-24 at the 1:42 mark.
After intermission, Wisconsin forced four turnovers to spark a 12-3 run to cut the deficit to 53-52 ahead of an official timeout at the 7:44 mark. Tamara Moore scored three baskets in that run for the Badgers.
Arkansas answered when Tenille Adams broke free behind Wisconsin's zone for a 3-point play at 6:32. She added a baseline jumper from 15 feet at 5:21 as the Lady Razorbacks scooted away from the Badgers again.
"Adams made a huge play and then hit another jumper when things were looking tough," Blair said. Early in the game "we were forcing turnovers and our press was very effective and in the second half we had two senior really step up, Adams and Stancle."
Bragg was named MVP for the tournament.
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