Wright State’s Baker on NCAA tourney upset: ‘We stepped up to the challenge’

Arkansas had an All-American in its lineup.

Wright State had the best player on the floor.

Junior guard Angel Baker racked up 26 points, 12 rebounds and four steals in a 66-62 victory over fourth-seeded Arkansas in the first round of the NCAA women’s tournament Monday in Austin, Texas.

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The first-team All-Horizon League pick played all 40 minutes and was 10 of 20 from the field and 3 of 3 on 3′s, including one with 29.1 seconds left that put her team ahead for good.

“It feels good man,” Baker said. “We made history for our program, for our university ... Definitely feel like we were underestimated. A lot of teams fail to realize numbers don’t mean nothing though, so they probably look at it like an underdog. We stepped up to the challenge.”

Arkansas’ Chelsea Dungee, the SEC’s leading scorer and a third-team All-American, had 27 points, but 14 of those came at the foul line (on 18 attempts). And like the rest of her team, she had trouble getting open looks against the dogged Raider defense.

She was 5 of 15 from the field, and the Razorbacks finished 17 of 50, including 7 of 22 on 3′s.

The 13th-seeded Raiders (19-7) — winning in the NCAA for the first time in their third appearance — won the rebounding battle for the 24th straight game, finishing with a sizeable 44-30 edge.

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They’ll play either No. 5 Missouri State or No. 12 UC Davis on Wednesday at a time and site to be determined.

“Wright State was clearly the better team from tip to buzzer,” Arkansas coach Mike Neighbors said. “We may have taken a one-point lead at some time there in the fourth quarter, but they just put the ball in Baker’s hands and let her make us wrong, which she did a whole bunch.”

The upset produced some unlikely heroes:

Freshman guard Emani Jefferson had a much-needed 13 points, five above her average. She also had six rebounds and was playing so well that coach Katrina Merriweather kept her on the floor even after she picked up her fourth foul in the third quarter.

Senior forward Alexis Stover had made just seven 3′s all season and was shooting 24.1% from the arc. But she swished a huge one in the final minute.

And sophomore guard Jada Roberson, shooting 67.9% from the foul line, clinched the outcome by making two free throws with 8.1 seconds left.

“They trusted themselves and each other,” Merriweather said. “We are a driving, rebounding, defending team.”

The nationally televised win — which ended with a joyful scrum of players and coaches near the bench — didn’t seem to be a fluke. The Raiders prevailed with quickness, rebounding prowess and unflinching clutch play down the stretch.

They built a 14-point first-half lead and still led by 11 early in the fourth quarter. But the Razorbacks (19-9) — the only team in the country with two top-five wins this season, beating mighty UConn and defending national champion Baylor — stormed back.

After Jefferson was whistled for her fifth foul against Dungee, teammate Jada Wright was called for an intentional foul for running into Dungee. Two foul shots and a bucket off the free possession cut the lead to 54-53 with 4:50 left.

Dungee hit a 3 with 1:50 to go to put the Razorbacks ahead, 59-58 — their first lead since the score was 7-6.

She added a free throw with 1:32 left for a 60-58 edge.

But Stover’s corner 3 made it 61-60.

Arkansas scored again. And the teams then traded turnovers, giving the Raiders the ball with 46.6 seconds left.

Baker found an opening on the wing for her trey to give the Raiders a 64-62 edge.

Arkansas missed, Baker grabbed the rebound, and Roberson put the game away.

The Raiders did what only a few others have been able to accomplish.

Teams seeded 13th had a 6-100 record going into the tourney, and the last victory was by Marist over Georgia in 2012.

The Raiders will advance to the second round against fifth-seeded Missouri State (22-2) on Wednesday at a time and site to be determined. The Lady Bears beat UC Davis, 70-51.

The winner will meet either top-seeded Stanford or Oklahoma State in the Sweet 16.

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