Paul Boyd is a sports reporter for the Northwest Arkansas Democrat-Gazette. He was voted Arkansas Sportswriter of the Year in 2018.
Razorbacks hit road in search of first SEC win
Arkansas coach Mike Neighbors is shown during a game against California on Sunday, Dec. 5, 2021, in Fayetteville.
FAYETTEVILLE — University of Arkansas women’s basketball Coach Mike Neighbors said he is hopeful Vanderbilt has some of the same issues tonight that the Razorbacks experienced in their SEC opener.
Arkansas (10-4, 0-1 SEC) got off to a slow start in its 70-63 loss to No. 7 Tennessee on Sunday. Neighbors said he wouldn’t mind that happening to the Commodores (9-5, 0-0) tonight when they face off at Memorial Gymnasium. Tip-off time is scheduled for 7:30 p.m. Central.
Vanderbilt hasn’t played a league game yet. Its league opener against Texas A&M was postponed because of covid-19 issues within the program, but Missouri had problems and also had to postpone Sunday’s game.
The Commodores have played just one game in the past 15 days — a 94-42 win over Alabama State on Dec. 28.
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“Hopefully, the exact same way it did us,” Neighbors said. “You have to make an adjustment to the physicality. Hopefully they have five players foul out just like we did.
“We talked about that big adjustment, that monumental leap. I hope they experience the exact same thing we did. Maybe they don’t, I don’t know. It is noticeable. You feel it. It is new for them. A lot of their players, they’re all learning something new because they’ve got a new system.”
The Razorbacks got a lesson Sunday on the speed and physicality of the SEC, Neighbors said, and it came from one of the biggest and most physical teams in the country. Tennessee outrebounded Arkansas 50-36 and the Razorbacks shot a season-low 30.3% from that floor — including 8 of 30 from three-point range.
“Maybe it was good we played Tennessee first,” Neighbors said. “Because that’s the height of physicality. That’s what Tennessee’s known for. We’ll see it with South Carolina and a few more teams, but it won’t be any more physical than it was on Sunday and hopefully we were able to make that adjustment.”
Coach Shea Ralph is in her first season in Nashville. She was a long-time assistant for Connecticut Coach Geno Auriemma following a standout playing career.
“Shea has come in and brought, I think, some of her personal playing days mentality, and then obviously years of years of experience sitting next to Coach Auriemma to Vanderbilt,” Neighbors said. “They’re confident. They’ve won four in a row, five of their last six coming off their best game of the year.”
The Commodores are among the best in the country at taking the ball away, averaging more than 11 steals per game. That’s among the top 25 in the country. Senior Jordyn Cambridge ranks third in the nation, averaging 4.07 steals per game.
Arkansas’ Emrie Ellis, a 6-3 freshman from Vanoss, Okla., returned to action Sunday after missing four games with an ankle injury. She didn’t score in just under 11 minutes off the bench and was one of five Razorbacks to foul out. But Neighbors said she should be valuable inside during league play.
Redshirt junior Erynn Barnum, who has missed the past five games with a knee injury, was back at practice on Tuesday but with limited to no contact, Neighbors said. There’s no timetable yet for her return to game action, he added.
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