FAYETTEVILLE – Sarah Pfeifer and Sheree Thompson led a valiant second-half effort, but the deficit proved to be too much to overcome as the University of Arkansas Lady Razorback basketball team fell to the sixth-ranked Tennessee Lady Vols at Bud Walton Arena on Sunday afternoon, 84-71.
The loss drops the Lady Razorbacks to 15-8 on the year and 3-9 in SEC action while Tennessee improves to 21-4 overall and 11-1 in conference play.
“I told them that they should gain some confidence from this one,” Arkansas head coach Susie Gardner said. “Now we know that we have it in us to fight back, we maybe didn’t know that before tonight.”
Arkansas trailed by as many as 20 in the game, but came roaring back in the final minutes to cut the game to eight.
“Guts and heart,” Pfeifer said. “I think that the fans wearing red were not ashamed to be cheering for us today. As a team we gained confidence. We don’t get discouraged, we always think that we have a chance”
“Arkansas did a great job of dribble penetration and their post defense was very good when we got caught behind,” Tennessee head coach Pat Summit said. “I’m just pleased we could come out with a win.”
Trailing by 17 at half and 20 with 10 minutes to play, Arkansas cut the Tennessee lead down to eight with eight minutes remaining. A steal by Thompson led to an easy bucket followed by a bad pass by Tennessee on the next possession which also led to a Thompson lay-up put Arkansas within striking distance.
“I was surprised,” Tennessee guard Shanna Zolman said. “They played very hard and have a lot of heart. They are very aggressive, played the passing lanes well and got (the comeback) started with the defense.”
“Surprised isn’t the word, but thrilled,” said Gardner. “I don’t know if I’ve ever felt the energy at a women’s game as I felt when they called the timeout. It was exciting and you could sense the players were more confident.”
Following Arkansas’ surprising run, Tennessee regrouped to bring the lead back to 16, but Arkansas continued to peck away with tough defense and timely shooting. Fouling on every Tennessee possession over the final minute of action, the Lady Vols were able to keep their lead over 10 to the final buzzer.
Both teams struggled from the floor in the opening moments of the contest, but as the game heated up, so did the Lady Vols. Rattling off the game’s first four points, Tennessee opened the contest with a 21-5 run to force the Lady Razorbacks to take ill-advised shots in an attempt to catch up. Tennessee’s shooting was incredibly accurate for a team on the road as they hit 53-percent in the first half as compared to Arkansas’ 21.
“There was a point in the first half where we looked like we were going to fold the tent,” Gardner said. “This was a positive in terms of their fight and continuing to make things happen.”
The shooting percentage margin allowed the Lady Vols to build a 17-point halftime lead, 39-22. Arkansas did manage to take a bite out of Tennessee’s game late in the half as they cut a 19-point deficit down to 13, outscoring their foe, 9-3 over a three-minute span, but the Lady Vols countered the run with one of their own to build the advantage up to 20 before a Kristin Peoples three ended the first 20 minutes of play.
Tennessee guard Shyra Ely led all scorers with 30, coupled with 11 rebounds for a double-double. She was the only Lady Vol to score in double digits. For the Lady Razorbacks, Pfeifer and Thompson each had 17 with Danielle Allen contributing a double-double with 12 points and 12 boards.
“Looking at the team early and again now, Arkansas is much improved in every aspect,” Summitt said. “ Their defense was very aggressive but like us they are prone to turnovers too much. They are a different team from what we played in Knoxville earlier this year. Generally the team takes on personality of head coach and in this case you see that.”
The Lady Razorbacks are back in action on Thursday, February 24 when they take on the top-ranked LSU Tigers at Bud Walton Arena beginning at 7:00 p.m. For more information about Lady Razorback basketball or about Arkansas women’s athletics, please go to www.ladybacks.com.