SEC Women’s Tournament Advance

Nate Allen

FAYETTEVILLE – These nationally 13th-ranked 19-7 overall/9-6 in the SEC Razorbacks of Mike Neighbors are the best of the four Arkansas women’s basketball teams he’s head coached.

Yet Neighbors acknowledges even after non conference victories over nationally No. 1 UConn and No. 6 Baylor, odds loom larger against Arkansas reaching the SEC Tournament championship game final like two seasons ago.

Even reaching the SEC Tournament semifinal like last season is no given for these Razorbacks starting SEC Tournament play tonight in Greenville, S.C.
SEC champion Texas A&M lodges in the other bracket and wouldn’t play Arkansas until Sunday’s championship game if both negotiate their preliminary paths.

But losing home and home on two buzzer beater heartbreakers the Razorbacks played the Aggies tougher than they did third-seeded Tennessee, Arkansas’ Friday second-round opponent if the sixth-seeded Razorback advance against Ole Miss tonight, and second-seeded South Carolina, likely a /Saturday semifinalist in Arkansas’ bracket.

Ole Miss is no slouch for tonight’s approximately 7:30 game on the SEC Network considering the Lady Rebels, 10-10 overall/4-10 in the SEC and beaten, 84-74 in an extremely physical game at Walton Arena, closed their regular season Sunday upsetting 17th-ranked Kentucky in Lexington, Ky.
“The draw is incredibly hard,” Neighbors said. “I think we got the hottest team in the league in Ole Miss, first. And then you’ve got Tennessee who beat us worse (88-73 in Knoxville, Tenn.) than anybody in the league. They handled us with their size and gave us problems with their perimeter. And then South Carolina (beating Arkansas, 104-82 in Columbia, S.C) It’s our hardest path.”

The hardest path with his best team.

“It’s our best team, but sometimes your best team doesn’t finish the best because of the draw,” Neighbors said. “I do think we’re healthy and we are playing pretty good but it’s an incredibly tough draw.”

At least he knows his Razorbacks, barring a covid resurgence like last March when its impact abruptly terminated the NCAA Tournament, will be in the NCAA Tournament.

Arkansas’ 22-15 team of 2018-2019 got sent to the WNIT despite reaching the SEC Tournament final. Last season’s 24-8 Hogs had played their way into the Big Dance before covid stopped the music.

“It’s different,” Neighbors said comparing past SEC Tournament urgencies. “We’ve been going down there knowing we had to make something happen to be in the conversation for the postseason NCAA Tournament. But now you talk about what a couple or three wins can mean on (NCAA Tournament) seeding. It’s a different approach but we know the importance. The kids want to get the highest seed they can. I think there’s a great desire to win four games and bring back a trophy, but coming back healthy is of the highest importance.”

Senior first-team All-SEC Razorback guard Chelsea Dungee determines to put first things first.

“Yeah, you keep that (the NCAA Tournament) in the back of your mind but we know we have to take care of business first,” Dungee said. “We have a chance to win it, and I don’t think you can look past that main focus right now. I’m excited that we have a big chance to win it. Playing Baylor, playing UConn, this shows we’re a special group capable of beating anyone on any day.”

Dungee likely will get special defensive attention from Ole Miss tonight. With Arkansas second-team All-SEC guard Destiny Slocum out ailing that Ole Miss, Dungee carried the load scoring 38 points.

“I definitely will be high on the scouting report,” Dungee said. “But having Destiny back definitely takes some of that pressure off because she’s a great player and she can score the basketball.”

Neighbors anticipates differences in Ole Miss defensively and Arkansas offensively.

“ I know there will be some changes,” Neighbors said. “I called Chelsea’s number in that game more than in any game all year long because Slocum was out. They did a lot of switching last time on screens. I would expect to see some different coverages. I don’t expect to see much zone after we shot it so well against Alabama but we might. I do think we’ll see some different on the ball screen coverages and maybe some initial different matchups with Slocum back in the lineup.

Back to top button