Neigh­bors be­lieves in let­ting up

Northwest Arkansas Democrat-Gazette - - THE SECOND PAGE - NATE ALLEN

FAYET­TEVILLE — As the new Arkansas Razorbacks women’s basketball coach, Mike Neigh­bors vows a fresh fin­ish to his fresh start.

Neigh­bors in­her­its from for­mer Univer­sity of Arkansas, Fayet­teville coach Jimmy Dykes a team that for its last 11 SEC games, in­clud­ing the SEC Tour­na­ment, went 2-9 in 2016 and 0-11 in 2017.

Many fac­tors likely con­trib­uted to those teams’ fal­ter­ing Fe­bru­ar­ies and March mis­ery. Surely fa­tigue was among them, con­sid­er­ing their ros­ters through­out each year were al­ready de­pleted by in­juries and at­tri­tion.

A dis­ci­ple of Hall of Fame coach Ed­die Sut­ton — for whom he was a Razorbacks walk-on and later served in var­i­ous coach­ing ca­pac­i­ties at Arkansas, Ken­tucky and Ok­la­homa State — Dykes prac­ticed what Sut­ton preached, stress­ing tough prac­tices.

Neigh­bors — a Green­wood na­tive and for­mer aide to for­mer Lady Razorbacks coach and cur­rent Texas A&M women’s Coach Gary Blair and a for­mer as­sis­tant to for­mer Razorbacks coach and cur­rent Mercer women’s Coach Susie Gard­ner — skins the coach­ing cat a lit­tle dif­fer­ently.

Neigh­bors’ meth­ods worked very well for him in his four years head coach­ing the Wash­ing­ton Huskies women to one WNIT and three NCAA Tour­na­ments.

While some old-school coaches prob­a­bly bite their lip not to gripe about the NCAA rule dic­tat­ing one full day off per in-sea­son week for play­ers, Neigh­bors in Seat­tle started giv­ing his Huskies two days off per game week.

Given his last two Huskies teams, 26-11 and 29-6 re­spec­tively, reached the Fi­nal Four and the Sweet Six­teen, the ex­tra bounce off an ex­tra day off ap­par­ently out­weighed the ex­tra work from the work­outs.

“We took an ex­tra day off and that helps when it come to late Fe­bru­ary and early March,” Neigh­bors said. “We stum­bled on to it and then did a lit­tle re­search and saw it helped. We did it in the con­fer­ence sea­son. Now they would still come in on their own those off days and we did some shoot­ing. But we didn’t bang on each other dur­ing a hard prac­tice other than Wed­nes­days.”

Was he tempted to eschew the day off for a hard prac­tice af­ter a sub­par per­for­mance?

“It was hard to do some­times,” Neigh­bors said. “It was hard some­times to re­al­ize that some­times less is more. Our grades went up, our legs were fresher and we were bet­ter be­cause of the rest.”

Neigh­bors said 11-time na­tional cham­pion Con­necti­cut Coach Geno Auriemma be­lieves in eas­ing the foot off the prac­tice throt­tle as game weeks un­fold.

“Coach Auriemma works them hard but they aren’t in the gym ev­ery day,” Neigh­bors said.

Leav­ing one tough league for an­other, go­ing from Wash­ing­ton’s Pac-12 to Arkansas’ SEC, Neigh­bors said he’s aware that feel­ing fresher at the fin­ish “doesn’t nec­es­sar­ily trans­late to vic­to­ries” in a SEC boast­ing both na­tional cham­pion South Carolina and na­tional run­ner-up Mis­sis­sippi State.

Nev­er­the­less, Neigh­bors in­sists, “I do think we will con­tinue to get bet­ter. I do ex­pect us to play bet­ter basketball as the sea­son goes on.”

NWA Demo­crat-Gazette/ANDY SHUPE

New Arkansas women’s basketball coach Mike Neigh­bors (right) said he be­lieves in giv­ing his play­ers two days off ev­ery week dur­ing the sea­son so they can stay fresh.

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