Arkansas Women's Basketball
Women’s basketball has been a part of the fabric of the University of Arkansas for almost a century. Teams of female students took to outdoor courts and peach baskets just after the turn of the century. While the women waited until 1976 for the first varsity team to officially represent the University, these early photos show how the game captured what was then deemed “the fairer sex” in action.
Arkansas’ women’s basketball history can be definitively traced to the 1976-77 season when the University began keeping records. Since that time, the Razorback women’s basketball team has made two SWAIAW Regional appearances, one AIAW Sweet 16 appearance, eight NWIT and WNIT appearances, and 10 NCAA Tournament appearances including reaching the Final Four in 1998.
Arkansas was the first team to beat Texas and the first team to win a share, then later an outright, Southwest Conference championship besides the Lady Longhorns. In 1991, Arkansas also ended the Lone Star state’s dominance of the SWC tournament by defeating Texas Tech for the title. These three trophies—the 1990 and 1991 SWC Championship and 1991 SWC Classic—are the only women’s basketball trophies in captivity outside the state of Texas.
NCAA Final Four
In 1998, Arkansas made NCAA Tournament history as the lowest seed -- #9 in the West -- to advance to the Final Four. They were the first unranked team in women’s basketball history during the modern era to reach the Final Four. And, they were the lowest finishing team in conference play -- tied for sixth in the SEC -- to reach the Final Four. Arkansas did it all on the west coast, spending two whole weeks in the Bay Area. Along the way, the Razorbacks beat three conference champions -- WAC, Pacific, Ivy and ACC -- and three ranked teams -- Hawai’i, Kansas and Duke -- to face conference rival Tennessee at Kansas City.
Arkansas played all four of its pre-Final Four games on late night TV, earning the nickname of Good Morning America’s team. Every member of the team contributed to the run, starting with a 24-point effort by Karyn Karlin in the opening round win over #20 Hawai’i, 76-70. Then it was freshman Wendi Willits’ turn with a near-NCAA record six three-pointers to blow open Arkansas’ second round contest with Harvard, 82-64. In the opening round games held at Stanford, Calif., Christy Smith had zero turnovers and 16 assists.
At the West Regionals in Oakland, junior Sytia Messer stepped to the front as Arkansas’ leading scorer in both wins, earning herself the honor as the most outstanding player at the West Regional. Messer had 23 points as Arkansas used an impressive 54-point second half to dispatch Kansas, 79-63, in the Sweet 16. Fellow junior Treva Christensen announced herself with 14 points off the bench against Duke to earn all-tournament selection. Junior Tennille Adams was 6-of-9 with 14 off the bench including the go-ahead bucket in the closing minutes against Duke.
The defining moment belonged to Smith, as she calmly sank four free throws in the final seconds to send Arkansas to the Final Four for the first time with a 77-72 win over ACC champion Duke.