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For Monk, it's full speed ahead

by Bob Holt | October 19, 2018 at 2:28 a.m.
Arkansas' Malica Monk plays against Missouri on Monday Feb. 12, 2018 at Bud Walton Arena in Fayetteville.

MOUNTAIN BROOK, Ala. -- University of Arkansas women's basketball Coach Mike Neighbors said Malica Monk's numbers were good enough last season for her to be recognized as an All-SEC player.

Monk, a 5-5 senior point guard from North Little Rock, averaged 15.9 points, 3.9 assists, 3.4 rebounds and 1.6 steals in 34.7 minutes while starting all 31 games.

"If you look at what she did, that's an All-SEC caliber season by all accounts," Neighbors said on Thursday at SEC media days. "We just didn't win enough games for her to earn that honor."

The Razorbacks finished 7-24, including 3-13 in SEC play.

Monk is looking for a bigger season for herself and the team, including Arkansas' first NCAA Tournament appearance during her career.

"We have to put Arkansas back on the map," she said. "That's my goal and that's our goal as the team."

Neighbors said he's counting on Monk to play even better this season.

"She's our most improved player, which is hard to say about someone who was our best player last year," Neighbors said. "She was in the gym all summer long whether it was at our place or down at North Little Rock High School.

"She's got very high aspirations of continuing to play basketball after she graduates."

Arkansas senior forward Bailey Zimmerman said Monk is well-suited to push the pace in the up-tempo style Neighbors wants to play.

"She's our game-changer," Zimmerman said. "She sets the tempo. When she's going fast, we're going fast."

Neighbors said Monk's speed was evident during the team's exhibition tour in Italy last summer in which the games had a 24-second shot clock in accordance with international rules.

"We had 10 [video] clips of her after a made basket by the other team laying it in on the other end with 21 seconds on the shot clock," Neighbors said. "That's three seconds for her to get an outlet pass and get the ball up the floor."

Monk said the Razorbacks should be ready to play faster in Neighbors' second season.

"Last year was a learning process for all of us," she said. "We were learning about the coaching staff and they were learning about us. Now we've got the pieces together and we're a working unit."

The Razorbacks, who return four starters, also have four new guards in Chelsea Dungee, a transfer from Oklahoma; A'Tyanna Gaulden, a transfer from Florida State; Alexis Tolefree, a transfer from Jones County (Miss.) Junior College; and freshman Rokia Doumbia.

"The newcomers add a lot of depth," Monk said. "They add a lot more speed and they bring a lot of shooting range.

"Everybody is capable of shooting threes and able to run the floor. I feel like those are very dangerous weapons.

"We are definitely on the rise. There's no question about that. We have everything that we need to get more W's."

Neighbors said the influx of talent will mean Monk -- who shot 35 percent (171 of 488) from the field and 30.2 percent (38 of 146) on three-pointers last season -- can be more selective.

"Last year she had to take some tough shots for us to be able to get a shot," Neighbors said. "She'll be able to eliminate those. She doesn't have to take bad shots this year, so her percentages are going to go up.

"I also think you'll see her assist numbers go up because we'll make more shots. Last season she would make the proper decision in an action and transition, get it to the right person. We just wouldn't make a shot enough times for it to equal an assist."

Neighbors said that led by Monk, he expects Arkansas' pace and scoring to be up and turnovers to be down.

"Mal's the key to us being able to play fast and still be able to function," he said. "We're at our best when she's pushing the tempo.

"I hope that we're able to win enough games as a team that she can be recognized as an All-SEC player."

Sports on 10/19/2018

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