BY DUDLEY E. DAWSON

It’s not often that a college women’s basketball program plays three conference games in one week, much less the last two being road games against a pair of top five teams nationally that are a  combined 36-0. 

But that’s the challenge facing No. 23 Arkansas (16-3, 3-1), which hosts Vanderbilt (9-9, 0-4) Monday night at 6 p.m and then travels to face No. 5 LSU (18-0, 6-0) on Thursday and No. 1 South Carolina (18-0, 6-0) on Sunday.

It will come after head coach Mike Neighbors’ Razorbacks, who are on a three-game winning, had a bye and an eight-day break after a 77-55 win at Missouri on Sunday, Jan. 8. 

“As a coach, coming off how well we have played, not that we won, but how we played, how we shared the ball and made shots, I hope we can keep that going,” Neighbors said. “And then it’s weird, not only having the bye that early, but having the bye and then a  Monday game.”

“…I think it (the break) helps with some bumps and bruises and gets us ready to go back to school and all that stuff, but I hope it doesn’t keep us from playing as well as we were,” Neighbors said. “It’s always the great worry – rested versus rusted – the argument that we have every year. But it was needed.”

Arkansas started the season 13-0  before losing three straight contests, including a humbling 69-45 home loss to LSU on  Dec. 29.

It was at that point Neighbors implored his team to focus on four games instead of the conference-opening loss to LSU.

The Razorbacks rebounded with three victories by a combined 74 points – a road win at Kentucky (71-50), a home rout over Florida (102-74) and at Missouri (77-55).

“I’m hoping that the motto would be, the focus would be finishing that little stretch the best we can,” Neighbors said. “We have three wins in the first three games, just continue to play well and improve on the things that LSU taught us and carried over and finished that four -game set on an up note before we turn our focus back to LSU.”

Vanderbilt is riding a four-game losing streak with defeats to visiting Mississippi State (72-44), at LSU (88-63), at Ole Miss (74-53) and to visiting Tennessee (84-71).

Guards Ciaji Harbinson (19.3) and Marnelle Garraud  (13.1) lead Vanderbilt offensively while former Bentonville star Jada Brown is a key reserve as a freshman.

“They have got two big-time scorers that have led then throughout the year,” Neighbors said. “Anytime you have a local girl coming home, too, in Jada Brown, they always seem to play better when they are closer to home. It’s a team whose record isn’t what we judge them by. We have the utmost respect told for them, especially since they beat us last year.”

Neighbors is happy for Brown, a former teammate of Arkansas redshirt freshman Maryam Dauda.

“We have some kids that have played with her from Bentonville,” Neighbors said.  “It’s always one or the other. They are really excited or really nervous I don’t know J-Will enough to know. She has obviously found the right fit. She plays a bunch of minutes for them.”