FAYETTEVILLE – In their last women’s basketball game on Dec. 19 the University of Tennessee-Martin Skyhawks took then nationally No. 6 Louisville to double overtime before losing by eight.
Sunday afternoon nationally No. 20 Arkansas took the now 4-7 Skyhawks to the cleaners, 96-46 before 3,484 at Walton Arena.
On Christmas break until Thursday’s practice since routing the University of Arkansas-Little Rock Trojans, 86-53 on Dec. 21 at Simmons Bank Arena in North Little Rock, coach Mike Neighbors’ now 12-1 Razorbacks removed any Christmas rust by cleaning 18 steals among the Skyhawks’ 26 turnovers.
Just on miscues Arkansas outscored UTM 36-5.
On 3-pointers the Razorbacks shot down the Skyhawks, 39-12. Arkansas hit 13 of 32 on treys to UTM’s 4 of 25.
Also Arkansas outscored UTM, 27-4 on free throws, 27 of 36 to 4 of 8.
The total both ends of the floor domination from his team coming off a holiday break obviously not prematurely focused on Thursday’s 8 p.m. SEC opener at Walton against the nationally No. 11 Texas A&M Aggies “shocked,” Neighbors.
“Just really shocked,” Neighbors said. “I’ve never had a team play that well going into the holidays like they did in Little Rock and then turn around and come back and continue to play that well. We’ll try to figure out what happened so we can duplicate it in the future. In the past some of our worst games have been coming into the holidays and right after so the credit goes to the kids.
And maybe to Louisville, too. Louisville’s struggle defeat the Ohio Valley Conference underdog Skyhawks got their attention, Sunday’s leading Razorbacks scorers Alexis Tolefree, 23 points, and Chelsea Dungee, 16, said.
“We didn’t look past them at all,” Tolefree said. “Tonight wasn’t supposed to be a blowout. They are a very good team. They went to double overtime with Louisville. We just executed our game plan and played hard and played smart and came out on top.”
Senior guard and former Conway Wampus Cat Tolefree, 23 points was a game high over the 18 by UTM’s Chelsey Perry.
Tolefree, 6 of 12 treys, did more than score. She grabbed three rebounds, dished three assists and her four steals were second only to the five by teammate Amber Ramirez who scored 14 points with 4 of 7 treys, while A’Tyanna Gaulden scored 12 off the Arkansas bench.
Second-year senior junior college transfer Tolefree continues playing up to the level of more heralded transfers Dungee via Oklahoma and Ramirez via TCU for a potent 3-pronged punch.
“It’s been all year all 13 games,” Neighbors said of Tolefree. “Her confidence is at an all-time high and her teammates’ confidence in her is at an all-time high. She’s playing loose and she’s playing free. It’s a maturity thing. She’s had a lot of reasons to be distracted lately and she hasn’t. A kid that loves Arkansas like she does, you can’t help but be happy and smiling every time something good happens to her.”
Her teammates share the happiness.
“Lex shot the ball incredible well,” Dungee said. “We had a lot of contributors this game and we played well.”
After committing four of their total 13 turnovers on their first seven possessions, the Razorbacks asserted themselves with a put the game away 48-26 first half that including 11 of 16 Arkansas free throws while the Skyhawks never got to the free throw line until, 7:14 of the third quarter.
Both said Sunday’s effort bodes well for the SEC opener against the Aggies.
“We have a lot of confidence getting ready for conference play,” Tolefree said. “I don’t think we had the same confidence last year. And I think our chemistry is a lot better going into conference.”
Dungee nodded assent.
“ Absolutely,” Dungee said. “Our mindset is we’re ready for Texas A&M.”
Freshman center Destinee Oberg, injured in a preseason accident, debuted Sunday blocking a shot during four mop-up minutes.
Senior 3-year lettering guard Jailyn Mason remains unable to play because of a preseason foot injury and appears likely to redshirt.
The Razorbacks and former Arkansas coach Gary Blair’s Aggies aren’t tipping off until 8 p.m. to accommodate the SEC Network’s “whip-around” coverage of Thursday night’s SEC league openers.
Photos Courtesy of Crant Osborne