Paul Boyd is a sports reporter for the Northwest Arkansas Democrat-Gazette. He was voted Arkansas Sportswriter of the Year in 2018.
Unranked Lady Vols still have aura
Arkansas guard Amber Ramirez drives around a Tennessee defender while teammate Taylah Thomas (24) sets a screen during a game Thursday, Feb. 20, 2020, in Fayetteville.
University of Arkansas graduate transfer Destiny Slocum grew up in a different part of the country, but she knows all about Tennessee Lady Volunteers basketball.
She will become a part of that rich history when the No. 13 Razorbacks (10-2, 1-1 SEC) take on Tennessee (6-1, 0-0) at 5:30 p.m. tonight in Thompson-Boling Arena.
“I grew up a huge Pat Summitt fan,” said Slocum, who was raised in Meridian, Idaho. “I don’t want to call it my dream school, but to me, she’s like the Mike Krzyzewski of women’s basketball. I love Duke men’s basketball.
“Their history catapulted women’s basketball into a different league, and I remember watching that as a child. So I appreciate what Pat built and what has come after that. And so I think in that way, you always have to give appreciation to a place that has built college basketball in a lot of ways.”
The 5-7 guard, who already has helped Maryland and Oregon State to Sweet Sixteen appearances, has made an impact in her first season as a Razorback. She leads the team in assists, averaging 3.7 per game, and ranks second in scoring at 15.4 points per game.
Slocum hopes to keep a little recent history going. Arkansas has won just twice in Knoxville, but it has won back-to-back matchups against Tennessee — including an 80-79 victory on the road in 2019.
It will also be the Lady Vols’ first game since their 77-52 win over Lipscomb on Dec. 28.
Tennessee 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. The Lady Vols, who have played just one game since Dec. 20, announced the team was cleared to resume activities Monday.
Arkansas Coach Mike Neighbors isn’t sure what to make of the Lady Vols’ layoff.
“I’ve been really following programs that have done that across the country,” Neighbors said. “Some teams have come back and played really well. You know, they’re rested. Others are rusted.
“We faced a Missouri team who had played fewer games than we had. And I don’t know if it’s an advantage to have played a bunch or not to have played a bunch. It can go either way. It’s made for a completely new dynamic of uncertainty that probably us coaches spend too much time worrying about and the players just go play.”
One thing that is a concern for Neighbors is Tennessee’s size advantage. The Lady Vols have outrebounded opponents by more than 17 per game.
“Theirs is across the board, their guards are big,” Neighbors said. “They’re just long. We spent a lot of time in practice [Tuesday] working on not trying to even finish around the rim. It’s not a good formula to drive it in there, and that eliminates a few free-throw attempts.
“This could be a game we look up and we’ve shot 35 or 40 threes. I don’t know. But they are incredibly long at every single position, and that’s always a challenge for us.”
The Razorbacks have dealt with some bumps and bruises already this season. Slocum said she’s close to 100% after dealing with some health issues during the holiday break. In addition, Neighbors said sophomore Makayla Daniels is good to go after missing the final 1:28 of Sunday’s game when her shoulder popped out of place.
“She could have come back in the other night,” Neighbors said. “She didn’t have contact in practice [Tuesday] just as a precaution. We did a lot of shooting and walk-through stuff. But she’ll be full-go on [Wednesday].”
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