Paul Boyd is a sports reporter for the Northwest Arkansas Democrat-Gazette. He was voted Arkansas Sportswriter of the Year in 2018.
UA women's basketball:
Surprising SEC foes no longer on table
Arkansas coach Mike Neighbors talks to his team during practice Wednesday, Oct. 9, 2019, in Fayetteville.
FAYETTEVILLE -- The University of Arkansas women's basketball team caught plenty of people off-guard with a run to the finals of the SEC Tournament a year ago.
The Razorbacks became the first No. 10 seed to advance to the tournament finals, then just missed out on an NCAA Tournament bid. Arkansas advanced to the quarterfinals of the WNIT before losing to TCU in Walton Arena.
Several returning players acknowledged Wednesday during UA media day that they won't be surprising anyone this year.
"I saw how special this team was last year and how special we are gonna be this upcoming season," said junior Amber Ramirez, who is eligible after transferring from TCU. "And I just think now we have a target on our backs. So we have to be more hungry now."
Ramirez, a McDonald's All-American coming out of high school in San Antonio, cheered from the bench last season. The 5-10 guard will pair with junior Chelsea Dungee in the backcourt this season, Arkansas Coach Mike Neighbors said.
"She's a kid that makes shots," Neighbors said of Ramirez. "She's a maker. She brings a scoring punch that we have on the wing that we haven't had in a while. She's someone who's done it at the highest level. She's done it with USA Basketball. She's done it in a Power 5 league.
"And the year off, like what Dungee had, she took it and made the most out of it."
Dungee is coming off a record-setting season after transferring from Oklahoma. She set a single-season Arkansas record with 759 points while averaging 20.5 points per game, which ranks second in school history.
She was named second-team All-SEC by the coaches and The Associated Press last year, and she has earned preseason All-America honors this year.
Neighbors may not expect a better season statistically from Dungee, but he's not ruling it out with a better team around her. Arkansas returns six of its top seven scorers from a year ago, and add a strong freshman class to go with Ramirez and redshirt freshman Erynn Barnum.
"I do think we have a deeper team around her," Neighbors said. "I think there are more weapons. I think we have more makers than shooters than we've had in the past. You're gonna see her assist totals go up. You'll see her rebounding totals go up. I think you'll see her overall efficiencies improve, her shooting percentages will go up.
"She won't have to take as many tough shots. There were a certain number of games last year she had to take some incredibly hard shots because it was the best we were gonna get. I've learned with that kid, don't put any ceiling there because if you do you're just setting yourself up for being proved wrong."
Dungee and Ramirez played summer ball together going all the way back to middle school, so there's already chemistry between the two, Dungee said.
"I know where she's at," Dungee said. "I don't even have to look back. I know when I'm driving, the kick-back is there. I don't even have to turn around. I don't have to do any of that because we've been doing that for the last five or six years."
Marquesha Davis, a 6-foot freshman from Springdale, has turned heads already in practice, Neighbors said. Davis did it all at Springdale as the leading scorer and rebounder for three seasons.
"An absolute wow moment every single practice," Neighbors said. "Just one of those moments where literally everybody stops and looks around at each other like, 'Be sure and roll that back on film; I want to make sure that happened.' A rebound or a fly-out-of-nowhere defensive stop, something wow every single day."
Senior guard Jailyn Mason came to the media day news conference with a protective boot on her left foot after suffering a torn tendon about a month ago. A timetable for her return isn't set, Mason said. She started 36 of 37 games a year ago and ranked second in minutes played behind Dungee.
Arkansas will take the floor for the first time in two weeks when it hosts Pittsburg State in an exhibition game Oct. 24 in Walton Arena.
Sports on 10/10/2019
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