By Nate Allen
Special to the News-Times
FAYETTEVILLE - Former Arkansas women’s 1998 Final Four coach Gary Blair returned Thursday night to Walton Arena with a nationally 17th-ranked Texas A&M Aggies team loaded with way too much talent and firepower for these current Razorbacks women to cope.
Blair’s Aggies had the game in hand after a 28-17 first quarter increased to 55-33 at half and eventually prevailed 104-60.
It marked the season’s home finale for the inherited Razorbacks of first-year coach Mike Neighbors, a former assistant for Blair during Blair’s 1993-2003 Arkansas tenure before Blair moved on to Texas A&M in 2003, where he’s won a national championship.
Neighbors, a Final Four coach at the University of Washington trying to rebuild an Arkansas program that had fallen to 2-14 in the SEC last season under former coach Jimmy Dykes, brings an Arkansas team now 12-16 overall and 3-12 in the SEC going into Sunday’s regular SEC season finale against Vanderbilt at the Commodores’ Memorial Gym in Nashville, Tenn.
The Razorbacks will return to Nashville for Wednesday’s start of the SEC Tournament at Bridgestone Arena.
Blair’s assuredly NCAA Tournament-bound Aggies stand 21-8 overall and 10-5 in the SEC, and host 11th-ranked Missouri Sunday in their SEC home finale in College Station, Texas.
They’ll play again in Nashville starting next Thursday having earned a first-day SEC Tournament bye.
A&M overpowered Arkansas on the boards 48-28 and with balanced scoring.
Four Aggies starters scored in double digits in the first half with Khaalia Hillsman's 13 points leading the way.
Anriel Howard, Jasmine Lumpkin and Chennedy Carter each had 11 points.
For the game, with all easily capable of scoring more but pulled by Blair for the fourth quarter, Carter scored 21, while Lumpkin had 17 and Hillsman added 16.
Danni Williams, who had four at half, joined them in double digits by scoring 12 in the second half to finish with 16.
Sophomore guard Jailyn Mason, scoring 13 in the first half when she hit 5-of-6 shots, led Arkansas totaling 15 points.
Junior guard Malica Monk of North Little Rock scored 13, but only hit 3-of-12 shots.
Graduate student basketball senior Devin Cosper scored 10, but only hit 3-of-14 in her Walton Arena farewell.
Hillsman, 6-5, proved too tall a first-quarter order for Arkansas, scoring nine points in the paint in 10 minutes, as A&M led 28-17 at the quarter’s conclusion.
Briefly leading 10-9 on a Cosper three at 6:04, Arkansas stayed within seven points hailing distance or less in the first quarter until Hillsman’s last two baskets inside with 34 and 10 seconds reamining completed the 28-17 first stanza that A&M dominated 16-6 on the boards and increased to 30-13 at half.
Hillsman led the first-half scoring with 13 points, but it was Howard, 5-11, leading the first-half rebounding having already posted a double-double with 12 rebounds along with 11 points.
Any notions that the Aggies would coast on their first-half laurels were quickly dispensed.
A&M opened the third quarter by firing home two threes and a deuce for an 8-0 run en route to closing the third quarter up 91-47 before Blair cleared his bench.