The nationally ranked No. 7 Tennessee Lady Vols hit unranked Arkansas with an 8-0 game opening run from which the Razorbacks rallied to overcome but ultimately couldn’t withstand.

For despite Amber Ramirez’s game-leading 26 points and taking third and fourth quarter leading, Arkansas couldn’t outlast Tennessee’s foul-drawing, big rebounding inside game eventually earning Coach Kellie Harper’s Vols a 70-63 SEC victory Sunday at Walton Arena.

Tennessee, improved to 13-1 overall/2-0 in the SEC, outrebounded Arkansas, 50-36. The Lady Vols, outscored Arkansas, 40-20 in the paint made 23 of 36 free throw opportunities to Arkansas’ 9 of 11, and fouled out five Razorbacks including starters Makayla Daniels, 11 points, Sasha Goforth, nine points and five shot blocks, and Jersey Wolfenbarger, five points, and reserves Rylee Langerman and Emrie Ellis.

Led by 6-6 center’s Tamar Key’s 17 points, eight rebounds and five shot blocks, the Vols logged balanced scorng with Alexus Dye, a game-leading 10 rebounds, and Jordan Walker each scoring 13 points while Jordan Horston tallied 12 and off the bench Keyen Green scored 11.

Arkansas, last playing in a Dec. 21 nonconference lost to Creighton here and with last week’s scheduled SEC opener at Ole Miss postponed by Ole Miss’ covid issue, falls to 10-4 overall and 0-1 in the SEC heading into Thursday’s 7:30 p.m. SEC game on the SEC Network against Vanderbilt in Nashville.

Neighbors said not playing at Ole Miss coming off Christmas affected Arkansas’ rhythm Sunday. But mainly it was Tennessee’ size and skill dominating the inside and compelling Arkansas to attempt 40 threes and only making eight mainly on Ramirez 5 of 13.

Still, the Razorbacks made a game of it for awhile surpassing a Tennessee start that had them digging out of a hole though climbed to just down, 35-34 at intermission.

“The start 8-0,” Neighbors said. “That’s tough against anybody, especially against a Top 10 team, but we did. We found a way to get back in it and take a brief lead. Then I thought their aggressiveness and ability to continue to draw foul, after foul, after foul mounts up on you and changes the way you play offensively and defensively. And they took it at us. And if you show any of our kids 8 for 40 (on threes) they’d go wow! We’re better than that.”

Neighbors said some of his rookies playing Sunday no doubt were affected by nerves in their first SEC game.

“I think I had probably had them overprepared with the extra day (because of the at Ole Miss postponement),” Neighbors said. “Our fight (battling Tennessee to the end) is obviously there. Our desire is obviously there. You have that you can get better.”

Arkansas led, 54-52 on a Ramirez trey with 6:39 and tied it 57-57 on a Ramirez trey at 5:18 before Sara Puckett’s bucket, Key’s 3-point play and Razorbacks fouling out most every late second-half whistle doomed them to defeat.

“If they are going to be big and tall we need to turn that around and be faster,” Neighbors said of only netting a 14-10 points off turnovers advantage despite committing just nine turnovers to Tennessee’s 20. “We never converted. We didn’t use our speed when we did turn them over and Tamari Key does a great job protecting the basket. But we didn’t take advantage of the 20-9 differential.”

Ramirez said Tennessee’s start cast a long effect.

“They started on that 8-0 run so we’ve got to clean up some stuff at the beginning,” Ramirez said. “You can’t let them start on an 8-0 run. We lose by seven, so if we clean up that 8-0 run right there I think we’d be OK. But I think we still battled. We hadn’t played anybody with that size all year. We all battled and did the best we can. Rylee coming in bringing lots of energy helped bring us back.”

And not many left to come the front at the end with five fouled out,

“I don’t if that’s a record,” Ramirez said. “But five players fouling out definitely hurts, especially in the last four or five minutes. That’s tough for us to battle with that.”

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