Hoops Preview: #7/9 Lady Vols at Arkansas

No. 7/9 Tennessee (12-1/1-0 SEC) plays its first SEC road contest of the 2021-22 campaign on Sunday, heading to Bud Walton Arena in Fayetteville for a 1:02 p.m. ET (12:02 CT) matinee with Arkansas (10-3/0-0 SEC).

The match-up will feature the nation’s number-one team in field goal percentage defense in UT vs. a UA squad that has hit 118 three-pointers, with a trio of players combining for more treys (62) than UT has hit as a team (56) the entire season.

The contest will mark the Lady Vols’ first test outside Thompson-Boling Arena since defeating RV/RV Virginia Tech in Blacksburg, 64-58, on Dec. 5. The Lady Vols are coming off a stretch that saw them play five straight games on The Summitt and six of seven tilts at home during the month of December.  UT’s only loss this season came during that stretch, as No. 3/3 Stanford prevailed, 74-63, on Rocky Top on Dec. 18.

Tennessee takes a three-game winning streak to The Natural State, reeling off wins over ETSU (112-58), Chattanooga (91-41) and Alabama (62-44) on Dec. 20, 27 and 30. UT has shot 50.7 percent and scored 88.3 ppg. during that run, while allowing 25.8 percent shooting and 47.7 ppg. UT also has out-rebounded foes 54.3 to 30.7 (+23.7) and owns a 1.8 assist-to-turnover ratio (73 to 40) over that stint.

Sunday’s tussle will mark the third game this week for the Big Orange, with the Lady Vols using a 24-7 fourth-quarter blitz to defeat the Crimson Tide Thursday evening and begin the SEC slate at 1-0.

Arkansas, meanwhile, has been idle since Dec. 21, when it suffered an 81-72 loss to Creighton in Fayetteville. The Razorbacks had their scheduled SEC opener at Ole Miss on Thursday postponed due to COVID issues within the Rebels program.

Of note, Arkansas lost at UConn (95-80) on Nov. 14 and fell at UCF (52-51) on Dec. 2. UT won at UCF (49-41) on Nov. 12 and plays at UConn on Feb. 6.

Lady Vols / Credit: UT Athletics

BROADCAST INFORMATION

  • Eric Frede (play-by-play) and Christy Thomaskutty (analyst) will be on the call for the SEC Network broadcast.
  • All of the games included in the ESPN package (ESPN, ESPN2, ESPNU) will be available through WatchESPN, accessible online at WatchESPN.com, on smartphones and tablets via the WatchESPN app, and streamed on televisions through Amazon Fire TV, Apple TV, Chromecast, Roku, Xbox 360 or Xbox One to fans who receive their video subscription from an affiliated provider.
  • The contest also can be heard on Lady Vol Network radio stations and by audio stream, with Mickey Dearstone behind the microphone. Now calling the action for his 23rd season, Dearstone is joined by studio host Bobby Rader.
  • A link to the live audio stream can be found on each game’s Hoops Central page or the Lady Vol schedule on UTSports.com.
  • For a list of Lady Vol Network affiliates, please click on the Fans tab at the top of UTSports.com, select Vol Network and then click on Vol Network Affiliates.
  • Air time for games on the Lady Vol Radio Network generally occurs 30 minutes prior to tip-off.

LADY VOLS, HARPER IN SEC OPENERS

  • Tennessee now is 34-6 all-time in its first SEC game of a season, including 19-3 at home and 15-3 on the road after defeating Alabama in Knoxville on Dec. 30, 2021, 62-44.
  • The Lady Vols have won their past eight SEC openers, last losing to LSU, 80-77, on Jan. 2, 2014.
  • Kellie Harper is 3-0 at UT in SEC openers, winning vs. Missouri, Arkansas and Alabama in her first three seasons.
  • In its first SEC home game of the season, Tennessee is now 35-5, winning five of its last six such games.
  • Entering the Arkansas contest, the Lady Vols are 30-9 in their initial SEC road game of a season after defeating LSU in 2020-21, winning 11 of the past 12.
  • Harper is 1-1 in UT’s first SEC road game of the season, falling at Kentucky in 2020 and defeating LSU last season.
  • This will mark the fourth time Tennessee has traveled to Fayetteville for its first SEC road game. UT is 2-1 in those battles, winning its last two. The most recent one was a 76-61 UT win on Jan. 7, 2001.

TENNESSEE IN SEC PLAY

  • UT is 415-88 (.825) in SEC regular-season games through the Alabama game, winning 18 regular-season championships and capturing 17 SEC tourney titles.
  • Tennessee Head Coach Kellie Harper is 20-10 in SEC games in her third year leading the team, including 1-0 in 2021-22, and has a 2-2 record in SEC Tourney play.
  • UT tied for third in 2019-20 and finished third outright in 2020-21, marking its best back-to-back outcomes in league play since taking second in 2013-14 and first in 2014-15.
  • The Lady Vols were picked second in the 2021-22 SEC Preseason Media Poll and No. 3 in the SEC Preseason Coaches Poll, marking their best positions since 2015-16 and 2016-17, respectively.

RPI/SOS/BRACKET TALK

  • The NCAA NET Rankings had UT ranked No. 12 as of Dec. 29 while the NCAA Toughest Schedule report had the Lady Vols at No. 12 (cumulative opposition).
  • RealTimeRPI.com has UT at No. 5 in RPI as of Dec. 30 with a calculation of .6912 and No. 9 in strength of schedule.
  • ESPN has the Big Orange at No. 4 in its Dec. 27 Women’s College Basketball Power Rankings.
  • In his Bracketology update on Dec. 31, ESPN’s Charlie Creme has Tennessee as a No. 2 seed in the Bridgeport Region. The Lady Vols are shown hosting No. 15 Holy Cross in the first round, with the winner facing No. 7 South Florida or No. 10 Oregon.

ABOUT THE LADY VOLS

  • The Lady Vols are one of the nation’s biggest stories of 2021-22, opening up at 12-1 against one of the NCAA’s toughest schedules despite losing returning starters Rae Burrell and Marta Suárez to injuries and with Jordan Horston missing three games, including the past two.
  • Tennessee is among the nation’s best at rebounding and defending, but its offense is emerging with different members of the team stepping up each game and younger players gaining experience.
  • Eleven different players have scored in double figures this season, including eight who have done so in multiple games. Karoline Striplin became the eighth Lady Vol to twice hit double figures, doing so with 10 vs. ETSU and 12 against Chattanooga.
  • The Lady Vols had at least one player record a double-double in the first 11 games this season and now in 12 of 13 contests, led by Tamari Key with seven (including a triple-double), Jordan Horston with five, Alexus Dye with two and Kaiya Wynn with one.
  • That gives Tennessee 15 total double-doubles this year, surpassing the 2020-21 total of 13 in only 11 contests in 2021-22.
  • The 11-game streak, which was both a season-opening UT record and an overall program best, came to an end vs. UTC. Karoline Striplin (12/9) and Alexus Dye (15/8) were oh-so-close to continuing the run.
  • Over the last four games, there are four Lady Vols averaging double figures in points, including Tamari Key (12.8), Jordan Horston (12.0), Sara Puckett (10.2) and Alexus Dye (10.0). Keyen Green nearly gives UT five players in double figures during that span, putting up 9.8 ppg.
  • During that stretch, UT has a scoring margin of +27.0, a rebounding margin of +18.2 and 1.4 assist-to-turnover ratio (104-74). UT also is shooting 44.4 percent from the field while allowing only 29.0 percent by its opponents. Those numbers are even more impressive when one considers Jordan Horston has missed the last two contests due to illness and Rae Burrell remains sidelined by injury.
  • UT has shown itself to be a tough, gritty team, coming from behind in the fourth quarter four times this season to win games (Southern Illinois, South Florida, Texas, Va. Tech). UT also came from 20-down in the second quarter vs. No. 3/3 Stanford, cutting the deficit to three in the second half with a 17-0 run spanning the second and third periods before eventually falling to the Cardinal.
  • Tennessee is led by 6-2 junior guard Jordan Horston, who paces the team in scoring (15.1 ppg.), rebounding (9.4) and assists (3.9 apg.) in a breakout season.
  • Horston is second on the team with five double-doubles and has topped UT in scoring six times.
  • Tamari Key, a 6-6 junior center, is putting up 10.4 ppg. and 9.4 rpg. to go along with 3.7 bpg. She had a triple-double of 10 points, 18 rebounds and 10 blocks in UT’s 74-70 OT victory over No. 12/21 Texas and her block average currently ranks No. 1 all-time among Lady Vols in a season and No. 4 in the nation. Key leads Tennessee with seven double-doubles thus far and has hit season highs in scoring in four of her past five games, including 18 vs. UTC.
  • Alexus Dye, a 6-0 forward, is third among active UT players in scoring at 9.9 ppg. She is third in rebounding at 8.3 rpg.
  • Freshman guard/forward Sara Puckett is UT’s fourth-leading scorer. She is putting up 8.5 ppg. and is shooting 48.8 percent from the field, 35.1 percent on threes and 77.8 percent on free throws and has scored in double figures in five of her past eight contests. She got her first career start vs. UTC.
  • Graduate forward/center Keyen Green, graduate guard Jordan Walker, sophomore guard/forward Tess Darby and freshman forward Karoline Striplin average 7.2, 7.2, 4.8 and 4.6 ppg., respectively, with Walker and Darby the typical starters alongside Key, Horston and Dye.
  • Tennessee now has 10 players averaging double figures in minutes per game, with freshmen Sara Puckett (24.0), Brooklynn Miles (21.6), Kaiya Wynn (10.5)  and Karoline Striplin (10.1) among them.
  • Point guards Jordan Walker and Brooklynn Miles have been UT’s most secure regulars with the ball, accumulating 45/23 and 33/22 assist-to-turnovers totals.

LOOKING BACK AT THE LAST GAME

  • No. 7/9 Tennessee opened SEC play with a 62-44 win over Alabama in Thompson-Boling Arena on Thursday night.
  • Graduate Jordan Walker led UT (12-1, 1-0 SEC) in scoring with 16 points, while junior Tamari Key turned in a double-double with 13 points and 11 rebounds. Their efforts helped head coach Kellie Harper pick up win No. 50 in her third season at UT.
  • Brittany Davis was the high scorer for Alabama (9-3, 0-1 SEC) with 12 points, and JaMya Mingo-Young was close behind with 11.
  • Tennessee burst out to a 23-12 lead after one, but Alabama outscored the Lady Vols 25-15 over the next two periods to briefly take a two-point advantage in the third quarter. UT rediscovered its groove in the final frame, tallying 14 paint points to outscore the Tide 24-7 and win by 18.

NOTABLES FROM OUR LAST GAME

  • TK DOING BIG THINGS: Key followed up a season-high performance of 18 points against ETSU with 13 points, 11 rebounds and five blocks against UA. Over the last three games she is averaging 15.7 ppg., 8.3 rpg. and 3.3 bpg. while shooting 73.1 percent (19-26) from the field.
  • BACK TO DOUBLE-DOUBLES: Tamari Key logged 13 points and 11 rebounds to card her seventh double-double of the season. The Lady Vols have recorded 15 doubles-doubles this year, with at least one player managing a double-double in 12 of 13 contests.
  • DEFENSE FOR DAYS: Alabama entered the game averaging 44.5 percent from the field and was held to just 24.3 percent on the night. Tennessee leads the nation in field goal percentage defense, limiting opponents to 30.2 percent from the field through 13 contests. Statistically, the Lady Vols have had their best defensive games in back-to-back contests, holding UTC to 22.6 percent shooting and Alabama to 24.3 percent.

UP NEXT: BACK HOME VS. AGGIES

  • The Lady Vols return home to host #23/17 Texas A&M at 6:30 p.m. ET on Thurs., Jan. 6 (SEC Network).
  • It will be Knox County School Day. Fans can donate two new school supplies and receive one complimentary ticket. All donations benefit the Knox County School Supply, which supports local teachers and education.

UT-ARKANSAS SERIES NOTES

  • Tennessee holds a 31-5 all-time record vs. Arkansas, dating back to Feb. 29, 1992, when UT prevailed, 105-59, in the initial meeting.
  • The Lady Vols are 15-2 in Knoxville, 14-3 in Fayetteville and 2-0 at neutral sites.
  • UT has won five of the past seven meetings, but UA has taken two of the past three. Each team has held serve on its home court the past two contests.
  • Tennessee is 1-1 in overtime and 2-0 in the postseason vs. UA, meeting for the first time in SEC Tournament play in 2016. UT prevailed, 68-51, in the second round in Jacksonville, Fla., on March 3 of that year.
  • UT’s only setbacks to the Razorbacks in Knoxville were both one-point losses. UA prevailed 72-71 in overtime on Feb. 23, 2012, and 80-79 on Jan. 21, 2019.
  • No. 1/1 Tennessee and unranked Arkansas met in an NCAA Final Four semifinal game in Kansas City, Mo., on March 27, 1998, and the Lady Vols cruised past the Razorbacks, 86-58, en route to their perfect 39-0 season.
  • Then the starting point guard for UT, Kellie (Jolly) Harper tallied 11 points, five assists and three rebounds during 30 minutes of duty in that contest.
  • Harper finished her career with a 4-1 record vs. the Razorbacks as a player.
  • As a head coach, Harper is 3-3 all-time vs. Arkansas. She won her last two meetings vs. the Razorbacks while at Missouri State, including 69-54 in Fayetteville on Dec. 2, 2015, and 64-62 in Springfield on Dec. 11, 2016.
  • This is the third meeting between Harper and Mike Neighbors as head coaches, with Harper getting the “W” a year ago to improve to 1-1 vs. UA as UT’s skipper.
  • Arkansas assistant coach Lacey Goldwire was on the Tennessee payroll from 2019-21 before returning in 2021-22 to Mike Neighbors’ staff at Arkansas, where she worked from 2017-19 in his first two seasons as head coach in Fayetteville.

ABOUT ARKANSAS

  • Arkansas (10-3, 0-0 SEC) has won four of its last five games entering Sunday’s match-up.
  • The Razorbacks are paced by five players scoring in double figures, including Makayla Daniels (15.0), Sasha Goforth (11.7), Erynn Barnum (11.2), Samara Spencer (10.6) and Amber Ramirez (10.1).
  • UA has not played since Dec. 21 after its Dec. 30 SEC opener at Ole Miss was postponed due to COVID issues with the Rebels.

ABOUT THE HEAD COACH

  • Mike Neighbors is 88-53 in his fifth season as head coach of the Razorbacks and is 186-94 overall in nine years.
  • He spent his first four seasons as a head coach at Washington, where he guided the Huskies to a 98-41 mark and a 2016 NCAA Final Four appearance.

LAST TIME ARKANSAS PLAYED

  • Arkansas fell in its last game on Dec. 21 in Bud Walton Arena, as the Hogs lost to Creighton (8-3), 81-72. Creighton’s offense was excellent for most of the night, especially from deep, as it hit 14 of 30 long balls. Creighton also outrebounded Arkansas, 39-31, while winning the turnover battle, 11-9.
  • Junior guard Makayla Daniels put together an excellent outing against the Blue Jays, scoring 34 of Arkansas’ points for a new career high. She did it on an incredibly efficient clip, too, as she made 11 of her 17 shots, five of her six threes and seven of her eight free throws. Sasha Goforth and Jersey Wolfenbarger both put up 11 points in the loss.

WHEN UT AND UA LAST MET

  • Unranked Tennessee opened SEC play with a victory over No. 13/13 Arkansas at Thompson-Boling Arena on Dec. 7, 2020, winning 88-73 via an impressive 53.6 shooting percentage.
  • Rennia Davis and Rae Burrell paced UT (7-1, 1-0 SEC), each turning in 26 points. Davis recorded her 33rd career double-double with an all-around effort, adding 11 rebounds, five assists and two steals to go along with her season-high point total. Kasiyahna Kushkituah and Jordan Horston were also in double digits, chipping in 11 each.
  • UA (10-3, 1-2 SEC) was led by Chelsea Dungee, who finished with 30 points and seven rebounds. Destiny Slocum and Amber Ramirez were also in double digits with 17 and 15, respectively.
  • The Lady Vols out-rebounded the Razorbacks, 49-36, and outscored them in the paint, 52-20.

-UT Athletics

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