“Versatile” is a word. University of Arkansas women’s basketball coach Mike Neighbors has already used a lot to describe his team — only after the Razorbacks’ official fourth day of preseason practice.
Saylor Poffenbarger, a transfer from Connecticut, epitomized that in Thursday’s practice which was open to members of the media, hitting several three-point shots and grabbing several rebounds.
The 6-2 guard from Middletown, Maryland showed his shooting skills early in Thursday’s practice by hitting 3 three-pointers. She finished with 27 points and 15 rebounds in the equivalent of a 40-minute game against the men’s practice squad.
The neighbors acknowledged that the Razorbacks turned the ball around a bit more than they would have liked on Thursday. But the group is much better overall at bouncing back, he added.
“We can’t look up and have 13 turnovers in one half,” Neighbors said. “We’re not going to be functional that way. But we’re a better rebounding team because we have better rebounders. Nothing they’re doing in terms of teaching. We have a group of kids that the rebound is important. Saylor had 15 of them. And we have more size to do it.
Poffenbarger gives Arkansas some serious size at guard, but the roster also includes 6-5 Jersey Wolfenbarger, 6-4 Maryam Dauda, 6-3 Emrie Ellis and 6-1 Crissy Carr. Carr and Dauda are also newcomers.
“Usually half of those rebounds that we would lose because we couldn’t reach [within] 9ft,” Neighbors said. “Now we can get up to 9ft and we have several kids who can get up to 9ft. I think we’ll get a lot better at bouncing back and if it comes at the cost of an extra turnover or two, okay? There is some commercial value there. … We had a formation the other day when either Mak or Sam left the game where it was 6-3, 6-3, 6-5, 6-5. I watched the movie and we had seven straight offensive rebounds.
“We’re going to tweak some things. We’re not going to be so rushed to get back on the transition defense. We’ll try maybe a little more offensive rebounding. Get yourself an extra possession or two throughout the course of a game. We have a different look.
Poffenbarger arrived in Fayetteville in January, and she said she was able to blend into the team more easily after being able to watch from the sidelines for a while.
“It brings a different perspective,” Poffenbarger said. “I noticed that playing and watching are completely different things. … I think when you watch something it’s easier to realize it on the pitch because you’ve seen all the ways it happens.
“I don’t have a lot of experience in the game, but I have a lot of experience in practice and I think that’s one of the situations where loving coming from different programs is like bringing different knowledge. Honestly, bringing a different perspective is a great thing.”
She said fitting into the team wasn’t difficult either. She even echoed Neighbors’ words about versatility. Also, sitting down for a big one was a challenge in itself.
“As long as you play fast, shoot three times and play defense, I think you fit the program,” Poffenbarger said. “Working hard is a big thing. I feel like I’m one of those players who does nothing. I shoot all three. I drive. I stretch the ground. I rebound really well. I can in somehow keep all five posts.
“Frankly [watching] was really difficult, but I really needed it. After being at UConn, I don’t think my passion was the same and I think sitting in a healthy situation made me want it again. … I think it was really good six months to sit down, have my emotions to settle down and love it again and have that healthy, competitive love of the game again after taking it away has allowed me to realize my love for him.
Putting senior Makayla Daniels and last year’s SEC Rookie of the Year Samara Spencer together up front is a tough combination on defense, Neighbors said.
“Bringing the two little ones together at the top, rather than one at the top and one in the corner, puts a lot of pressure on the defense,” Neighbors said. “They throw at each other. The ball goes up the pitch faster. There was a lot more chemistry than you would expect on day four.”
Spencer added 16 points and Daniels 15, while Carr added 11 in the scrum.
Neighbors said Poffenbarger brings both versatility and maturity to the Razorbacks – even though she’s only ranked as a redshirt rookie.
“She’s a kid who’s played in a lot of top games,” Neighbors said of Poffenbarger. “She is now comfortable here. The versatility she has [is big]. This ability to shoot above you. The ability to shoot farther than you really want to protect her, and then if you come looking for her, she can also reach you.
“She’s got that way of her. She’s out there with my kids right now. She’s got that way that pulls the kids with her. She’ll be fun to keep going. It’s hard to think of her as a Freshman, but that’s what she is. … She’s going to present some issues with her length.”