Tom Murphy is a reporter for the Arkansas Democrat-Gazette. A graduate of Louisiana Tech University, he is a member of the Football Writers Association of America, and voter for the Heisman Trophy and AP Top 25 football poll.
Razorbacks relish shot at Lady Vols
Keira Peak and Arkansas will host Tennessee on Sunday.
FAYETTEVILLE One year and one day ago, Arkansas beat Tennessee in Knoxville, Tenn., for a seminal moment in Razorbacks women’s basketball.
Arkansas’ 72-71 overtime decision at Thompson-Boling Arena marked its first victory over the Lady Vols away from home, its second in the series, and it helped the Razorbacks solidify an NCAA Tournament bid.
The Razorbacks (17-9 overall, 5-8 SEC) get another crack at Tennessee today at 1 p.m. (SEC Network) at Walton Arena, and this time the odds appear steeper against the home team.
Arkansas (17-9, 5-8 SEC) vs. No. 11 Tennessee (21-5, 12-1)
WHEN: 1 p.m.
WHERE: Bud Walton Arena, Fayetteville
TV: SEC Network
The Lady Vols (21-5, 12-1) bring a No. 11 national ranking and a revenge motive into the game in their first season under Coach Holly Warlick, the former Tennessee All-American and long-time assistant to Pat Summitt, who stepped down after last season.
Arkansas, which is 0-5 against the top six teams in the SEC, has its final big shot at an RPI boost with the postseason looming.
“This schedule is not very forgiving,” Arkansas Coach Tom Collen said. “You play one ranked team and if you get knocked down, you’re going to play another ranked team.
“There’s a good side and a bad side to playing Tennessee. … It’s a great opportunity. If you want to stiffen your back a little bit, step back up to the plate and show what you’re capable of doing, why not do it against maybe what’s the best team in our league right now?”
Tennessee is in sole possession of first place in the SEC, but today’s meeting marks the f irst time in Arkansas’ 25 meetings with Tennessee that the Lady Vols have been ranked outside the top 10 of the Associated Press poll.
Arkansas Coach Tom Collen said last year’s victory against Tennessee has proved something to the team’s veterans.
“There’s a lot of teams that struggle to beat Tennessee because they don’t believe they can,” he said. “Going up there last year, they realize we can beat Tennessee.”
Collen said he thinks the Volunteers are just as talented and physical this year as in previous seasons under Summitt, and that Warlick has begun to put her stamp on the team.
“This team is a little bit more free-wheeling, a little looser,” Collen said. “Last year they played tight. Maybe that was because of the impending coaching change or the pressure that was on that group of seniors. … So they played uptight. This Tennessee team is not playing tight at all.
“They’re playing like they’re the best team in the league. They’re playing to try to get to the Final Four and win a national championship.So they’re pretty dangerous that way because they’re loose and free-flowing and take whatever shot is there.”
Arkansas is coming off a 66-34 loss at No. 12 Georgia on Thursday, but senior center Sarah Watkins of Germantown, Tenn., said she thinks the Razorbacks have to approach today’s game mentally much like they did last year.
“Going into that Tennessee game last year, you could feel in the shoot-around we just had a bunch of confidence,” she said. “We knew we were going to play them close and we’d have a shot to win. You could feel the team energy of that confidence from everybody.”
Sports, Pages 33 on 02/24/2013