How to watch
Where: Bud Walton Arena, Fayetteville, AR
When: 6 p.m.
Radio: UConn IMG Sports Network
Record: 11-6 (2-5 SEC)
Location: Fayetteville, Arkansas
Head coach: Mike Neighbors (fourth season)
UConn women’s basketball will follow up a hard fought win at now-No. 20, Tennessee last Thursday with its second ranked opponent in a week’s span. The Huskies, who added No. 19 Arkansas to their schedule just before last week’s trip to Knoxville, will face another test from a quality SEC opponent on Thursday.
Don’t be fooled by the Razorbacks’ 2-5 record in the SEC so far. The first part of their conference schedule has been a gauntlet with five games (and five losses) to ranked teams. Arkansas lost two of those games (to Texas A&M and Georgia) by a total of just three points. While the their losses to Kentucky, Tennessee and South Carolina came by an average of 16 points, the Razorbacks also boast a win over Baylor from early December.
This game will bring a different set of challenges for UConn. Arkansas’ roster features just two players over 6-feet tall who average more than 15 minutes per game. Instead, the Razorbacks rely on their speed and plays a style that is most akin to what UConn faces from DePaul.
Arkansas ranks seventh in the nation for possessions per 40 minutes and fifth for points per game, per Her Hoop Stats. While their defense leaves a lot to be desired, the Razorbacks rely on scoring a lot of points to end up in the win column. Plus, even with the pace it plays at, Arkansas only averages 10.4 turnovers per game — third best in the country.
That offensive production is anchored by the backcourt duo of Chelsea Dungee and Destiny Slocum, both of whom are redshirt seniors and bring vast experience to the Razorbacks while averaging a combined 36.8 points per game. Dungee, who leads the team in scoring, is excellent at getting to the line and has made more free throw than anyone else in the country. Slocum is an explosive scorer who can create her own shot inside but also makes over 37 percent of shots from deep.
In addition to Dungee and Slocum, Arkansas’ biggest three point threat comes from a third redshirt senior — Amber Ramirez. She’s shooting over 44 percent from beyond the arc on the season and has hit at least one three-pointer in 13 of the Razorbacks’ 16 games this season.
Defensively, Arkansas’ experienced backcourt will be a good test for UConn’s guards. The Huskies need to contain Dungee and Slocum, both of whom will be tough matchups for whoever draws the assignment. Additionally, they will need to disrupt Arkansas’ offensive flow and try to force more turnovers than the Razorbacks are accustomed to. That makes this game the perfect opportunity for Aubrey Griffin to wreck havoc on the defensive end.
Offensively, UConn should look to Olivia Nelson-Ododa. Since Arkansas doesn’t present much size inside to challenge her, the Huskies should be able to feed Nelson-Ododa underneath the basket and capitalize on mismatches inside. This will be especially important if Paige Bueckers is sidelined or plays limited minutes due to her ankle injury. UConn had trouble replacing Bueckers’ role on offense against Georgetown this weekend and its offensive struggles are likely to be even more pronounced against a team of Arkansas’ caliber.
UConn’s keys to the game
Control the pace: Similar to the game plan when UConn plays DePaul, the Huskies will want to set the pace. If they allow the game to be played at the Razorbacks’ preferred speed , it could turn into a shooting contest, which likely won’t favor UConn — especially if it’s without Bueckers.
Take the ball inside: In addition to Nelson-Ododa’s obvious size mismatch in this game, UConn’s guards also have a height advantage over Arkansas’ backcourt. Additionally, the Razorbacks are one of the worst shot blocking teams in the country, so there should be plenty of opportunities for the Huskies to play to their strengths inside by feeding Nelson-Ododa in the paint and getting the guards to drive in the lane.
Can UConn get out in transition?: UConn has one of the best defenses in the country but Arkansas is elite at taking care of the ball. If the Huskies can’t force turnovers, they’ll be forced to play in the half court more than they prefer. Look for Griffin to have a big impact on the defensive end in addition to increased minutes for Mir McLean so UConn can try to create more transition opportunities for itself.