Paul Boyd is a sports reporter for the Northwest Arkansas Democrat-Gazette. He was voted Arkansas Sportswriter of the Year in 2018.
Arkansas returns to play quickly to take on LSU
FAYETTEVILLE — The University of Arkansas women’s basketball team trailed only briefly in Friday’s 84-74 victory over Ole Miss, but must shift gears quickly as it travels to Baton Rouge to take on LSU today at the Maravich Assembly Center.
It might be a little easier for the Razorbacks (16-7, 6-6 SEC) since they could have graduate transfer Destiny Slocum back in the starting lineup. She missed Friday’s game with a “non-covid related illness,” Arkansas Coach Mike Neighbors said.
Slocum, who had started every game this season until Friday and ranks second on the team in scoring with 14.6 points per game, was back at practice on Saturday.
Against Ole Miss on Friday, senior Chelsea Dungee scored a season-high 38 points to keep the Rebels at arm’s length and help Arkansas notch its fifth victory in the past six games. It was three points off the 5-11 guard’s career high of 41. She made Ole Miss pay for its full-court pressure, driving hard to the basket over and over, often resulting in layups, free throws or both.
Dungee, who topped 2,000 career points a week ago against Mississippi State, made 11 of 22 shots from the floor but just 2 of 4 from three-point range in more than 38 minutes of action.
She made 14 of 17 free throws. It was her fourth game of the season with 30 points or more. Senior guard Amber Ramirez added 19 points and played 40 minutes in Slocum’s absence.
Those heavy minutes for Ramirez and Dungee aren’t a concern, Neighbors said. It’s something the Razorbacks prepared for even last week.
“We took four days off last week,” Neighbors said. “I don’t think I’ve ever been a part of a team that took four days off with a month to play, but we did because that’s the confidence we have in them.”
Ramirez, one of the top three-point shooters in the country, made just one three against Ole Miss. Instead, she found openings in the Rebels’ defense in the mid-range. She made 7 of 12 shots from the floor, but that wasn’t her only contribution.
“I told her I might need her for 40 (minutes) because she was going to be the backup point guard, which she has played exactly two possessions all year,” Neighbors said. “When Makayla [Daniels] got in foul trouble, it was probably a few more minutes at the point than what we planned for.
“She thinks the game at another level. Coming over saying, ‘Hey Coach, I saw this last play.’ I said. ‘Stop asking me, just start doing it.’”
The Tigers (8-10, 6-6 SEC) come into today’s game on a three-game skid and haven’t played in a week. LSU was scheduled to play at Kentucky on Thursday, but the game was put off until Friday then postponed again because of winter weather in the region.
LSU is led by senior guard Khayla Pointer, who averages a team-high 16.4 points, along with 4 rebounds and 4 assists. Faustine Aifuwa, a 6-5 senior, is a force inside, averaging 11.8 points, a team-high 9 rebounds and almost 2 blocked shots. The Tigers’ combination of athletic guards and size around the basket has proven to give Arkansas trouble.
“That’s a formula we struggle with,” Neighbors said. “It’s a low possession game. They’re going to walk it up.
“Their size around the basket, Aifuwa … they can play some volleyball with it in there. We’ve seen it in the past, not so much the last four or five games. We’ve gotten better at it. Big, big challenge. They’ve got a lot to play for as well.”
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