Mike Neighbors enters his third season as the leader of the Razorback women’s basketball team in 2019-20.
The ninth head coach in program history, Neighbors inherited a program in the midst of back-to-back losing seasons, with only seven returners who had never played in the postseason.
In just two seasons since his arrival at his alma mater, Neighbors and the Razorbacks have sparked the fan base, posted the program’s first 20-win season in the last six year’s and advanced to the third round of the WNIT welcoming 12,915 fans to Bud Walton Arena in the postseason.
Neighbors came to Arkansas touting the successes of players he developed, none of whom are more recognized than the NCAA’s all-time leading scorer in Kelsey Plum. Plum’s success, including leading the Washington Huskies to a win over Oklahoma in the NCAA Tournament, was the impetus behind the addition of Chelsea Dungee to the Razorback roster.
Dungee watched a lot of film in preparation for the game against Neighbors’ previous team and recalls thinking that she liked his style. When word broke of his return to the Natural State, Dungee reached out.
And Razorback fans are sure glad she did.
An SEC Second-Team selection with first-team numbers, Dungee’s development under Neighbors and his staff was something special. The Sapulpa, Oklahoma, native scored in double figures in 34 of 36 games including a 41-point effort against Auburn. She was second in the SEC in scoring and led the league in free throw shooting, points scored and minutes played.
The First Two Years
One of Neighbors’ first tasks when he arrived in 2017 was to re-recruit the current players. He found immediate leadership in grad student Devin Cosper who returned for her final season of eligibility. She was joined by six other returners who guided Arkansas to a 13-win season that included a victory in the first round of the SEC Tournament – something the seniors had not experienced since their freshman season.
The excitement continued into his second season on The Hill. Arkansas rolled through the non-conference schedule with an 11-3 record that included a couple of thrilling last-second wins and a pair of single-digit losses to nationally-ranked programs who finished their years deep into postseason play.
The momentum heading into the SEC season in 2019 brought more fans to Bud Walton Arena. Neighbors saw attendance at the games and at his courtside Chalk Talks climb as more and more fans gravitated to the women’s game.
Conference play opened with a 5-2 start, but Arkansas ran into a buzz saw facing the top of the league in February. Arkansas entered the SEC Tournament as the 10th seed with a first-round matchup against Georgia – a team who defeated the Razorbacks twice in the regular season.
But Neighbors and the Razorbacks caught lightning in a bottle in Greenville. They opened tournament play with an 86-76 win over the Bulldogs, winning a first-round SEC Tournament game in consecutive seasons for just the third time in program history.
But Arkansas wasn’t done. The Razorbacks followed up upsetting No. 12 South Carolina, 95-89. The historic victory saw Arkansas become the first 10-seed to reach the semifinals since 1993, was the most points allowed by South Carolina against an SEC opponent and snapped a Carolina SEC Tournament winning streak tat dated back to 2014.
Arkansas was picking up fans as the Cinderella team sparked excitement in the league and around the country and the legend continued to grow against No. 15 Texas A&M in the semifinals. Trailing by 16 late in the game, Arkansas went on a 17-0 run holding the Aggies scoreless for the final 6:30 of the game to complete the unlikely comeback win, 58-51, to move into the championship game.
Although Arkansas didn’t win the title, falling to No. 5 Mississippi State in the finals, Neighbors and the Razorbacks firmly presented their case for postseason consideration. The SEC Tournament run moved Arkansas into the “Debatable Eight” and the Razorbacks heard their name mentioned in the national conversations as the NCAA Tournament approached.
Despite the record-setting run, Arkansas was not selected to the NCAA Tournament. They did, however, earn a spot in the WNIT hosting Houston in the first-round game. More than 3,600 fans created an electric atmosphere in Bud Walton Arena watching Arkansas down the Cougars, 88-80 in overtime. The fan support propelled the Razorbacks into a second-round game against UAB as tournament play stayed in Bud Walton Arena.
Neighbors coached five players in double figures as the Razorbacks crushed UAB 100-52 in front of 3,939 fans. Neighbors continued to grow the program getting 5,287 fans to rock Bud Walton Arena in the final game of the year against TCU in the third round.
As year two, came to a close, neighbors helped Arkansas to eight team records, 10 appearances in team top-10 lists and it’s 20th 20-win season.
Prior To Arkansas
Neighbors guided Washington to four seasons of unprecedented success, highlighted by the 2016 NCAA Final Four and two NCAA Sweet 16 appearances. Named the program’s head coach after two years as an assistant, Neighbors led the Huskies to a 98-41 record that was fueled by three consecutive 23-plus win seasons and included four postseason appearances (3 NCAA, 1 WNIT).
Entering the 2016 NCAA Tournament as a No. 7 seed, Neighbors led Washington to victories over No. 10 seed Penn, No. 2 seed Maryland, No. 3 seed Kentucky and No. 4 seed Stanford before squaring off with Syracuse in the national semifinal.
It was a drama-filled run as Washington had to use fourth quarter heroics to top Penn, 65-53, behind a 23-point effort in the final frame. On the road at Maryland, the Huskies secured the upset with a 32-point performance from Kelsey Plum. The back-and-forth contest saw Neighbors captain Washington on a 16-2 run erasing a seven-point deficit late in the third quarter to hold on to the win.
The victories over Kentucky and Stanford took place in Rupp Arena in games in which Washington started fast and never looked back, leading wire-to-wire in the wins.
Neighbors also mentored the NCAA’s all-time leading scorer Kelsey Plum. Plum was a unanimous Associated Press All-American selection after leading the nation in scoring. Plum became the all-time NCAA scoring leader finishing her career with 3,527 points. She is also the NCAA single-season scoring record holder with 1,109 points, passing Jackie Stiles (1,062).
Plum’s honors include selection to the WBCA Coaches’ All-America Team (April 1, 2017), and 2017 player of the year honors with the Citizen Naismith Trophy, the Ann Meyers Drysdale Award, the Nancy Lieberman Award as the best point guard as well as being named as the 2017 Associated Press’ Women’s College Basketball Player of the Year.
Plum added a Wooden Award All-America selection this week and is one of five finalists for the 41st Annual presentation of the John R. Wooden Award taking place as part of the presentation of the ESPN College Basketball Awards on Friday, April 7.
Neighbors was hired by Xavier head coach Kevin McGuff in time for the 2007-08 season. He continued as McGuff’s assistant through the 2010–11 season, during which time the Musketeers were 108–22, winning the A10 Conference Tournament three of the four years, making the NCAA tournament each year, and advancing to the Elite Eight in 2010, losing to national runner-up Stanford by just two points. While at Xavier, Neighbors was selected as one of the best assistant coaches in the country. He was chosen as one of five recipients for the BasketballScoop.com and ONS Performance Rising Star award.
While with the Musketeers, Neighbors developed Amber Harris and Ta’Shia Phillips, two of the best players in program history. Harris was a two-time State Farm All-America selection and was drafted fourth overall by the WNBA’s Minnesota Lynx. Phillips was considered as one of the premier defensive players in the nation and finished her career as the leading rebounder in program history.
Prior to his time at Xavier, Neighbors was at the University of Arkansas, where he was an assistant coach for a season, his second stint in Fayetteville. Prior to returning to his alma mater, Neighbors was an assistant coach at the University of Colorado and the University of Tulsa, both under Kathy McConnell-Miller. In Boulder, Neighbors helped recruit the school’s all-time leading scorer in Brittany Spears, a 2011 WNBA draft selection. At Tulsa, Neighbors was an assistant on the up-and-coming Hurricane’s program that enjoyed back-to-back postseason appearances.
A native of Greenwood, Ark., Neighbors received his bachelor’s degree from the University of Arkansas in 1993. Following his graduation, Neighbors was a director of basketball operations for the women’s basketball program, serving under legendary coach Gary Blair, who won the NCAA Championship in 2011 with Texas A&M. Before moving into the collegiate profession, Neighbors was a highly successful head coach in the Arkansas girls’ high school ranks. His most notable achievement was taking a 1-24 Bentonville team to the State Championships two years later.
Neighbors has two children, a daughter Abby and a son Alec.
• Overall head coaching record: 120-56 (.681)
• Postseason: 3 NCAA (2015, 2016, 2017), 2 WNIT (2014, 2019)
• Sweet Sixteen Appearance: 2 (2016, 2017)
• Elite Eight Appearance: 1 (2016)
• Final Four Appearance: 1 (2016)
• Overall Postseason Record: 11-5
• Mike Neighbors has …
• Helped sign nine McDonald’s All-Americans
• Had 11 players drafted in the WNBA including three who have won WNBA Championships
• Developed the No. 1 or 2 all-time leading scorer at every school