Paul Boyd is a sports reporter for the Northwest Arkansas Democrat-Gazette. He was voted Arkansas Sportswriter of the Year in 2018.
Dungee motivated entering tourney
Arkansas' Chelsea Dungee (33) goes up for a shot during a game against Ole Miss on Friday, Feb. 19, 2021, in Fayetteville.
FAYETTEVILLE — Chelsea Dungee feels snubbed again, and that didn’t work out well for the rest of the SEC last time.
Two years ago, Dungee didn’t make All-SEC first team after averaging 20.5 points per game. She responded by leading the University of Arkansas on a four-game Cinderella run to the SEC Tournament championship game.
The senior acknowledged Tuesday she felt slighted again, this time when she was denied SEC Player of the Year honors. It will serve as motivation for her and the Razorbacks in this week’s SEC Tournament in Greenville, S.C., which begins today with one game. Arkansas is set to face Ole Miss on Thursday at 7 p.m. Central.
“I think they predetermine that without even, you know, the season even starting, which doesn’t make sense to me to be honest,” said Dungee, who did earn All-SEC first-team honors this season. “But, hey, it is what it is. We have a tournament to win, and I’m excited for this team and what we can do down in Greenville.”
Two years ago, Dungee set a tournament record by scoring 103 points (25.8 ppg) to lead Arkansas to the finals as a No. 10 seed before falling to Mississippi State. That run got the Razorbacks on the cusp of an NCAA Tournament bid, but they fell short and settled for the WNIT.
Arkansas Coach Mike Neighbors said it’s a different mindset this year with an NCAA bid clinched, so the Razorbacks may not be as focused on the results on the floor.
“It’s a different approach, but certainly we still know there’s importance down there,” he said. “I don’t know that the scoreboard is as important as always. How we play. How we handle whatever circumstances are thrown at us. And staying healthy. Making sure we are very, very good in the hotels.”
But he’s also happy if Dungee is a little more determined.
“If it puts her hair on fire, that’s fine,” Neighbors said. “I don’t think it’s a slight. I hope she doesn’t take it as that, but if it puts a chip on her shoulder that’s OK.”
The No. 13 Razorbacks (19-7) have won seven of their last eight games after some tough losses to start conference play. They are the No. 6 seed and face Ole Miss (10-10), the 11 seed, in the last ga. Game time is estimated to be 7 p.m. Arkansas was also announced as a likely top 16 national seed in a reveal Sunday afternoon with less than two weeks before Selection Monday.
The tournament begins today with Florida taking on Auburn at 3 p.m. in the only game. The winner of that game faces Kentucky at noon on Thursday.
Dungee said the focus this week will be to win the conference tournament and think about the NCAA Tournament later.
“You keep it in the back of your mind, but we’ve got to take care of business first,” she said. “We have a chance to win it, and I don’t think that we can look past that right now. I think that’s where the main focus needs to be. And I’m excited.
“We were a 10 seed and we made it to the finals [two years ago]. So I expect to be there again this year. We have a better team and we’re more focused. We’ve been on this platform now for the last two years, so we know what it takes to get there.”
Neighbors said the group has stayed in a good mind frame to finish strong, which was not easy.
“… To do that you’re constantly walking a razor-thin edge of focus and preparedness and putting too much pressure on them,” Neighbors said.
Arkansas defeated Ole Miss 84-74 two weeks ago, and Dungee came up huge to the tune of a season-high 38 points. Her performance was especially big since graduate transfer Destiny Slocum didn’t play because of an illness.
Dungee expects to be a focal point for the defense of the Rebels, who upset No. 17 Kentucky to end the regular season Sunday. Ole Miss is led by 6-5 junior Shakira Austin, a transfer from Maryland who also earned All-SEC first-team honors.
“I’ll definitely be high on the scouting report,” Dungee said with a laugh. “But having Destiny back takes some of the pressure off. She’s a great player and she can score the basketball.”
Ole Miss’ Madison Scott was named SEC Freshman of the Year on Tuesday. Austin and Scott both registered double-doubles in the last game against Arkansas.
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