Razorbacks, Vols both sit on bubble

Arkansas forward Maryam Dauda is shown, Sunday, Dec. 31, 2023 during a women's basketball game at Bud Walton Arena in Fayetteville. (Charlie Kaijo/NWA Democrat-Gazette)
Arkansas forward Maryam Dauda is shown, Sunday, Dec. 31, 2023 during a women's basketball game at Bud Walton Arena in Fayetteville. (Charlie Kaijo/NWA Democrat-Gazette)


FAYETTEVILLE -- One of either the Arkansas or Tennessee women's basketball teams will feel better about their NCAA Tournament chances while the other will start picking up some sweat tonight when they leave Thompson-Boling Arena in Knoxville, Tenn.

Arkansas (17-8, 5-5 SEC), which lost 85-81 at Florida on Thursday night after having a 10-point lead entering the fourth quarter, needs a strong finish to its SEC schedule to play its way into the field of 68 teams.

The Razorbacks will likely need to win home games against Missouri and Vanderbilt and steal one or more road games out of trips to Tennessee, Texas A&M and Ole Miss remaining on the schedule.

Arkansas has not lost back-to-back games this season and is alone in seventh place of the SEC. It's a trend the Razorbacks will look to continue as they seek to finish in the league's top half.

"Arkansas has been pretty consistent the past few years," Tennessee Coach Kellie Harper said. "They walk in the gym ready to shoot the three. They push the ball in transition and they're going to get layups, they're going to get kick-out threes and they're going to the free-throw line. Those are their three-headed monster."

The Lady Volunteers (14-8, 7-3) appear to be hanging on to the safe side of the tournament bubble, but they are headed into a gauntlet final stretch.

After facing Arkansas, Tennessee will play top-ranked South Carolina twice, 13th-ranked LSU, Vanderbilt and Texas A&M over its final five games.

Tennessee was without star forward Rickea Jackson, a preseason All-SEC first-team selection and projected WNBA first-rounder, for eight games in nonconference play due to a lower right leg injury. During that stretch, the Lady Vols went 4-4 and limped into SEC play needing to show they could win with her back in the fold.

Since her return, Tennessee has won 9 of 12 games and is tied with LSU and Mississippi State for second place in the league.

"Now with [6-6 center Tamari] Key back, and with Rickea Jackson at full speed, they've got their full complement of players," Arkansas Coach Mike Neighbors said. "It's a different team than a lot of people saw in the preseason."

Tennessee is third in the SEC scoring 76 points per game since league play began.

"It's a different Tennessee team," Neighbors said. "Key presents a lot of issues on us getting around the rim. Rickea Jackson is a defensive matchup nightmare. If you put a little kid on her, she'll post you up, and if you put a big kid on her, she takes her out to the perimeter. ... She's kind of one of those kids that you have to make her work for everything she's going to get. You can't keep her from taking shots or getting shots."

The Lady Vols lost 72-56 Thursday on the road against a guard-oriented Alabama team, which is much like the Razorbacks. Guarding Arkansas on the outside is something Harper, who is in her fifth season coaching her alma mater, is concerned about.

"They are extremely quick on the perimeter," Harper said. "They do an unbelievable job off the dribble getting to the paint, and if you help, they kick. You've got to be really good 1-on-1 defensively. ... It will be a huge challenge."

ESPN listed Tennessee as one of the last four teams in its most recent "Bracketology," meaning it would avoid one of the two play-in games between at-large bids. Arkansas was listed among one of the first eight teams left out of the tournament field.

The Razorbacks have won twice in Knoxville, last doing so on Jan. 21, 2019. Malica Monk hit a game winner with 4 seconds remaining to lift Arkansas to an 80-79 victory in Neighbors' second season.

The game today will be televised on SEC Network.

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Today's game

ARKANSAS WOMEN AT TENNESSEE

WHEN 6 p.m. Central

WHERE Thompson-Boling Arena,

Knoxville, Tenn.

RECORDS Arkansas 17-8, 5-5 SEC;

Tennessee 14-8, 7-3

TV SEC Network

RADIO Razorback Sports Network