The Razorback women's basketball team was left with a sparse roster after a successful 2020-21 season highlighted by two top-five wins and an NCAA Tournament appearance. Now, the team is building on last season’s success with a new makeup.
Arkansas lost seven players from last season, three of whom were starters and four of whom came off the bench. The Hogs’ revamped roster includes four freshmen — Emrie Ellis, Samara Spencer, Ashlyn Sage and Maryam Dauda — and sophomore Oregon State transfer Sasha Goforth.
“I don’t know what the end of this picture looks like with this team yet, but we have unique pieces,” Razorback head coach Mike Neighbors said in a Nov. 3 press conference. “We have unique pieces that I’ve never had all under the same roof or on the same team at the same time. So it’s been a lot of fun for our staff.”
Last season, Neighbors led the Hogs to a 19-9 finish capped off by an opening-round loss to Wright State in the Razorbacks’ first NCAA Tournament appearance since 2015. Following the loss, senior Chelsea Dungee and graduate transfer Destiny Slocum declared for the WNBA Draft.
Dungee and Slocum started in all 27 games the pair played together. Dungee was the most consistent scorer for the Hogs, averaging 22.3 points per game and scoring double digits in every start. She was instrumental in Arkansas’ effort to hand UConn its only loss of the regular season, scoring 37 of Arkansas’ 90 points. Dungee was selected fifth overall by the Dallas Wings in the 2021 WNBA Draft.
Slocum was second on the team in scoring, averaging 15 points per game. She led the Hogs with 106 assists on the year, the 15th-best single season record in program history. Slocum was selected 14th overall by the Las Vegas Aces in the draft.
Compounding the losses of Slocum and Dungee, a slew of players transferred from Arkansas. Two-year starter Taylah Thomas transferred to Texas Tech, freshman Destinee McGhee left for UAB and graduate seniors Jailyn Mason and Macy Weaver went to Rutgers and Southern Mississippi, respectively.
Only one senior, Amber Ramirez, was left on the roster. Ramirez and junior Makayla Daniels are the only two returning starters.
Neighbors said before the season that minutes and roles would be dispersed according to how players earned them at the beginning of the season.
“There’s been a time that we’ve relied on two or three individuals, probably too much,” Neighbors said. “That’s not going to be the case moving forward with the team we have.”
So far, all but three players on the roster are averaging double-digit minutes. The Hogs are averaging 85 points per game this season, three more than last season, with no player averaging more than 12.4 points individually.
With so many new players, it was hard for the Hogs to build chemistry, Ellis said. Some players were fresh out of high school, and others had played several seasons of Southeastern Conference basketball.
“At first it was very difficult because there were a ton of us young girls coming in and playing, but the veterans have done a really good job of bringing us all close together,” Ellis said.
Under the guidance of Neighbors and the veteran players, the Hogs have slowly meshed together. Ramirez and Daniels have provided the team with outstanding leadership, Ellis said.
“I would say Amber is the glue of the team,” Ellis said. “She keeps everyone together, everyone sane when things aren’t going right, and makes sure that we’re coming back together. (Daniels) does a good job at that, too, she speaks out really well.”
The season is young, but with more time spent together on and off the court, Ellis thinks things will only improve for the Hogs, she said.
“Our chemistry is just gonna get stronger, and you can already tell that we are starting to read each other better and making the right plays,” Ellis said. “So overall, our chemistry has become very strong from where it was at.”
Aside from a Nov. 14 loss at No. 2 UConn, the Hogs have looked impressive on the hardwood. Losing players over the offseason hurt, but the 2021-22 Razorbacks are well rounded, Neighbors said.
“We’ve got options we’ve never had in the past,” Neighbors said. “Every single person on the roster has a new role.”
The SEC coaches picked Arkansas to finish seventh in the conference before the season began. The SEC is arguably the toughest conference in women's basketball, but this year's Razorback team could have the talent to run the table.
“Coach Neighbors has told us over and over that we are the most talented team that he’s ever been a part of,” Ellis said. “If we stay close and stay together, our chemistry is going to build, and we are going to be a very hard team to beat.”