Paul Boyd is a sports reporter for the Northwest Arkansas Democrat-Gazette. He was voted Arkansas Sportswriter of the Year in 2018.
Arkansas falls to rested Lady Vols
Arkansas' Chelsea Dungee (33) scores on a drive with Tennessee's Rae Burrell and Kasiyahna Kushkituah (11) defending during an NCAA college basketball game Thursday, Jan. 7, 2021, in Knoxville Tenn. (Scott Keller/The Daily Times via AP)
Tennessee hadn’t played a game in 10 days and was forced to pause for a week because of covid-19 issues, but showed no signs of rust on Thursday night.
The Lady Volunteers overpowered No. 13 Arkansas inside and rolled to an 88-73 victory in Thompson-Boling Arena in Knoxville, Tenn., in their SEC opener.
Tennessee (7-1, 1-0 SEC) scored 52 points in the paint, shot 54% (37 of 69) from the floor and never trailed in the second half to earn the victory.
Arkansas Coach Mike Neighbors said his team, which made 9 of 30 three-pointers and shot just 32% from the floor, has to be better.
“There’s certain things we’re just not going to be able to change,” said Neighbors, referring to Tennessee’s significant size advantage. “We have to do us better than we did us. We’ve gotta make more than nine out of 30 threes. We’ve gotta get better ones. We’ve got to get better shots than that.
“And we’ve gotta get some of those tipped balls. So that’s hustle plays, that’s energy plays. And those are things we can get better on. A team that’s gonna be able to put length on us and size we’re always gonna have a certain amount of struggle against it.”
Senior Chelsea Dungee scored a game-high 30 points making 9 of 26 shots from the floor and a meager 1 of 10 from three-point range. The 5-11 guard did hit 11 of 13 free throws.
The Lady Vols paused all basketball activities Dec. 29 because of positive covid-19 tests and contact tracing within the program, which caused the postponement of its first two SEC games. They were cleared to resume activities on Monday, but the time off didn’t seem to be a problem.
Tennessee led 42-35 at halftime, but scored every point in a 12-3 run inside the lane to grab a 64-47 lead with 2 minutes, 23 seconds left in the third quarter to take control. Arkansas (10-3, 1-2) got no closer than 10 points the rest of the way.
Rennia Davis and Rae Burrell scored 26 points each to lead four Lady Vols in double figures. Davis, a 6-foot-2 senior guard, also registered a double-double with a game-high 11 rebounds and added 5 assists. Jordan Horston chipped in 11 points. Kasiyahna Kushkituah, a 6-4 senior, added 11 points and 6 rebounds off the bench.
Neighbors said Burrell’s emergence to go with Davis has helped to make Tennessee a better overall team. The 6-1 junior swing player started the final nine games last season and has picked right back up this season. She came into the game leading the team in scoring at 16.6 points per game.
“You can’t be out of position on her for one second because she does make you pay now,” Neighbors said. “As a whole, when you’ve got those two type of explosive kids that can get it right to the rim, can hurt you from the three-point line and hurt you on the drive, there’s just not a weak side.”
Tennessee, which came in fifth in the country in rebound margin, dominated the boards against the smaller Razorbacks, too. The Lady Vols outrebounded Arkansas 49-36, which led to 18 second-chance points.
Neighbors credited Tennessee for being patient and executing well. The Lady Vols committed 23 turnovers in a loss at Walton Arena a year ago, but had just 11 this time and controlled the pace.
“It was obviously a game plan and they executed it perfectly,” Neighbors said. “I credit them for playing to their strengths and not settling. That’s playing to your strengths. I think they played to their strengths better than we did.”
Destiny Slocum added 17 points and Amber Ramirez 15 for Arkansas. They each made 3 three-pointers.
Arkansas returns home on Sunday to face No. 8 Texas A&M in Walton Arena. Tip-off time is slated for 3 p.m.
Have a comment on this story? Join the discussion or start a new one on the Forums.