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Utah women use 3-point barrage to beat Arkansas 92-69

March 19, 2022 GMT
Utah forward Jenna Johnson (22) shotos past Arkansas guard Jersey Wolfenbarger (24) during the first half of a college basketball game in the first round of the NCAA women's tournament, Friday, March 18, 2022, in Austin, Texas. (AP Photo/Eric Gay)
Utah forward Jenna Johnson (22) shotos past Arkansas guard Jersey Wolfenbarger (24) during the first half of a college basketball game in the first round of the NCAA women's tournament, Friday, March 18, 2022, in Austin, Texas. (AP Photo/Eric Gay)
Utah forward Jenna Johnson (22) shotos past Arkansas guard Jersey Wolfenbarger (24) during the first half of a college basketball game in the first round of the NCAA women's tournament, Friday, March 18, 2022, in Austin, Texas. (AP Photo/Eric Gay)
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Utah forward Jenna Johnson (22) shotos past Arkansas guard Jersey Wolfenbarger (24) during the first half of a college basketball game in the first round of the NCAA women's tournament, Friday, March 18, 2022, in Austin, Texas. (AP Photo/Eric Gay)
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Utah forward Jenna Johnson (22) shotos past Arkansas guard Jersey Wolfenbarger (24) during the first half of a college basketball game in the first round of the NCAA women's tournament, Friday, March 18, 2022, in Austin, Texas. (AP Photo/Eric Gay)

AUSTIN, Texas (AP) — Kennady McQueen scored 20 points and Utah unloaded a barrage of 3-pointers to bolt to a big early lead and coast to a 92-69 win over Arkansas on Friday in the first round of the NCAA Tournament.

The seventh-seeded Utes built a 20-point lead in the first half, then used another burst of 3s to squelch an Arkansas rally in which the Razorbacks fought to get within 12 with six minutes left.

The Utes were long-range specialists all season as the Pac-12′s highest-scoring team, making at least nine 3-pointers in 19 games this season. On Friday, they were 15 of 31 from 3.

And there was no sign of hesitancy in the Utes’ first NCAA Tournament game since 2011.

“They have never shown nerves this season. That’s a testament to our leadership,” Utah coach Lynne Roberts said.

Gianna Kneepkens added 16 points for the Utes (21-11), who advance to play No. 2 seed Texas in Sunday’s second round.

Amber Ramirez scored 24 points to lead Arkansas (18-14).

Utah ran out to leads of 10-0 and 15-4 as they fired away from behind the arc at the opening tip. The Razorbacks couldn’t match that, going 0 for 6 from long range in the first quarter.

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“Coach always says throw the first punch. That’s always the goal,” McQueen said. “We have the green light to shoot.”

Utah stretched the lead as high as 20 in the second. Ramirez kept Arkansas in the game with eight straight points after a 1-of-8 shooting start. But Utah’s Isabel Palmer made a 3 over Ramirez and closed the half with a buzzer-beating layup that made it 44-27 at halftime.

The Razorbacks started the third with an 8-0 and cut the lead to 50-40 before the Utes closed the quarter with four more 3-pointers. Utah led by 16 heading into the final period.

“Even their subs they brought in, they were making shots,” Ramirez said. “They were going to make you pay for any mistake.”

BIG PICTURE

Arkansas: The Razorbacks have made quick tournament exits two years in a row at the University of Texas’ Frank Erwin Center. At least they won’t have to play here when the Longhorns join the SEC in a few years. The building is being shut down for a new arena after Sunday’s second-round game.

“We haven’t played well in this build the last few years, it won’t hurt our feeling to see it torn down,” Arkansas coach Mike Neighbors joked.

Utah: The Utes overcame some turnovers, including six by starting point guard Dru Gylten. But Gylten countered that with 11 assists. Utah also had a 27-4 advantage in points off the bench and save their energy for the second round. No Utes player was on the court more than 28 minutes.

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“I think our depth was a key today,” Reynolds said. “We didn’t seem to get tired.”

FABULOUS FRESHMEN

Kneepkens was the Pac-12 freshman of the year this season and Arkansas’ Samara Spencer was the SEC freshman of the year. Both produced big numbers in their first career NCAA Tournament game. Kneepkens went 6 of 9 from the floor, scored the game’s first basket and grabbed seven rebounds. Spencer shook off a quiet first quarter to score 18 and grab five rebounds.

LOCAL CONNECTIONS

Ramirez is from San Antonio, just an hour’s drive south on Interstate 35 and had what appeared to be a personal cheering section. Utah junior guard Isabel Palmer scored nine points on 4-of-8 shooting on her old court. She played at Texas in the 2019-2020 season, then transferred when Texas changed coaches from Karen Aston to Vic Schaefer.

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More AP coverage of March Madness: https://apnews.com/hub/march-madness and https://apnews.com/hub/womens-college-basketball and https://twitter.com/AP_Top25