Unless you’ve been completely off the grid, you’ve probably at least seen the 90-87 score by which the Arkansas Razorbacks defeated the No. 3 UConn Huskies last Thursday. In one of the most exciting and competitive games of the 2020-21 NCAA women’s basketball season, the Razorbacks — despite being ranked No. 19 in the weekly AP poll at the time — opened the country’s eyes to just how dangerous a team they have.
“I’m proud of the kids for taking the game. I’m proud of them for wanting to do it,” quipped Arkansas head coach Mike Neighbors after his team’s victory — terminology that, while basic, perfectly described the Razorbacks’ complete effort on a big stage.
It also describes the game of the Razorbacks’ star player, Chelsea Dungee. A 5-foot-11 guard from Sapulpa, Okla., Dungee is not one for hanging back and waiting for things to happen on the basketball court. Rather, she takes them. And after her 37-point masterpiece against UConn, it’s safe to say she’s taken the attention of women’s basketball fans as well. She was recently profiled by ESPN’s Mechelle Voepel as a player who has greatly improved her WNBA Draft stock since the beginning of the season.
Honors and statistics
The No. 61 overall prospect in ESPN HoopGurlz’ 2016 recruiting rankings, Dungee began her collegiate career at the University of Oklahoma, earning Big 12 All-Freshman Team honors.
Dungee then transferred to Arkansas, where she established herself as one of the most dangerous scorers in the SEC. She was named to the 2020-21 preseason All-SEC team after averaging 20.5 and 16.9 points per game as a redshirt sophomore and junior, respectively, and also earned spots on the Naismith and Wooden Award preseason watch lists.
Dungee is currently averaging a career-high 22.2 points per game for the Razorbacks, chipping in four rebounds and 1.4 steals as well. She’s scored in double figures in every game this season, eclipsing the 20-point mark 11 times.
How she helps the Razorbacks
Arkansas, a team that Neighbors envisions as “functionally fast,” must play at a fast pace while minimizing turnovers. The Razorbacks have done a great job at accomplishing both — per Her Hoop Stats Neighbors’ squad currently ranks ninth in the country in pace (78.5 possessions per 40 minutes) and second in turnover rate, giving the ball up on just 11.7 percent of its possessions.
Having a player like Dungee certainly helps in building such an offense. She’s in attack mode on every possession, driving to the hoop with reckless abandon no matter how much time is left on the shot clock.
Such a mentality might make some coaches cringe, but Neighbors has given Dungee the green light, and for good reason. There are few players in the country as adept at getting to the basket and either finishing through contact or drawing fouls as Dungee is; she’s attempted 149 total free throws (second among all Division I players) and has drawn shooting fouls on 27.8 percent of her two-point shot attempts. This jumps all the way to 30.8 percent in dribble hand off situations, according to Synergy Sports; Dungee is shooting 63 percent from the floor on these plays.
THIRTY-SEVEN POINTS.— SEC Network (@SECNetwork) January 29, 2021
In short, Dungee is not a player teams want to see coming at them downhill, and keeping her out of the paint is almost impossible.
All of that being said, Dungee has improved her game to become a multi-dimensional offensive threat. She’s shooting a more-than-respectable 38 percent on 3-point shots and, per Synergy, currently ranks in the 92nd percentile on catch-and-shoot possessions, scoring 1.308 points per possession. Her 37-point effort against UConn showed her at her best; the free throws (10 attempts) were there, but she also hit several three-pointers under some form of duress, all within Neighbors’ functionally fast offense. Such is the blueprint for Arkansas’ success; we’ll see how far it can take them in the ultra-competitive SEC.
Watch her play
While the Razorbacks are done with the toughest part of their schedule — they recently played three ranked opponents in the span of ten days — they still have some interesting matchups in the near future. Arkansas will take on No. 24 Mississippi State on Feb. 11, followed by a nationally-televised (ESPN2) game against No. 7 Texas A&M on Feb. 14.
All statistics for the 2020-21 season are current through Feb. 1, 2021.