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Preview: Can Arkansas also contend with No. 1 South Carolina?

The previously-ranked Arkansas Razorbacks are itching to get back in the rankings and nearly beat the No. 3 LSU Tigers on Thursday. Can they go one step further against the No. 1 South Carolina Gamecocks and actually win?

Syndication: The Knoxville News-Sentinel
Makayla Daniels is Arkansas’ third-leading scorer at 13.3 points per game.
Caitie McMekin/Pool via News Sentinel via Imagn Content Services, LLC

One thing the Arkansas Razorbacks (RV, 34 points) have going for them entering their 3 p.m. ET Sunday showdown at the No. 1 South Carolina Gamecocks is that they are coming off a true test against the No. 3 LSU Tigers.

In fact, the Razorbacks have played three games against currently ranked teams since the Gamecocks’ last game against a currently ranked team. Arkansas played now-No. 23 Oregon on Dec. 20 and LSU on Dec. 29, while South Carolina hasn’t faced a true test since defeating now-No. 9 UCLA on Nov. 29.

Yes, the Gamecocks have won 17 in a row against ranked opponents and seven in a row against Top 5 opponents, and that was a big storyline early this season after they defeated now-No. 11 Maryland, now-No. 4 Stanford and UCLA. However, the Gamecocks haven’t been tested lately!

And even though it’s not ranked, Arkansas is no pushover. The Razorbacks are the third team out of the rankings, were ranked as recently as Dec. 26 and are coming off a down-to-the-wire battle against red-hot Angel Reese and LSU.

The good news for South Carolina is that, while it may have faced easy competition of late, it has been dominating. In their last three games, the Gamecocks have defeated Kentucky 95-66, Missouri 81-50 and Vanderbilt 96-48. Arkansas played that same Vanderbilt team on Monday and only won by three. In seven SEC games, the Gamecocks have really only looked mortal against Mississippi State on Jan. 8; they won that contest by just seven.

South Carolina’s reigning National Player of the Year Aliyah Boston is working on four double-doubles in a row. She is just so consistent and will be difficult for Arkansas to shut down. Boston’s partner in crime, Zia Cooke, finally had the breakout offensive game she is capable of at the beginning of this month, dropping 31 points on Georgia on Jan. 2. Last year, Cooke deferred to her then-senior backcourt mate Destanni Henderson and it was of course Henderson who led the Gamecocks in scoring in their national championship win. Cooke has to be the clear-cut second-best player on South Carolina this year if the Gamecocks are to repeat and with that 31-point game, she showed she isn’t messing around.

On the Arkansas side, Erynn Barnum (16 points and seven rebounds per game) and Samara Spencer (15.3 points and 4.6 assists) lead the way. Barnum has had at least 15 points and seven rebounds in each of her last five outings (every one since the Razorbacks’ disappointing blowout loss to LSU on Dec. 29). Her averages over that span were 18.2 points and 8.6 boards. Spencer hasn’t been as consistent over the last five, but did score 23 against Vanderbilt and has a 32-point game to her credit this season.

NCAA Womens Basketball: Arkansas at Connecticut
Erynn Barnum
David Butler II-USA TODAY Sports

Game information

RV (34 points) Arkansas Razorbacks (17-4, 4-2 SEC) vs. No. 1 South Carolina Gamecocks (19-0, 7-0 SEC)

When: Sunday, Jan. 22 at 3 p.m. ET

Where: Colonial Life Arena in Columbia, SC

How to watch: ESPN2

Key to the matchup: Arkansas’ 3-point shooting. The Razorbacks face huge disadvantages in scoring defense, field goal percentage, field goal percentage defense, 3-point percentage defense and rebounding. Their only advantages are 3-point percentage, threes made, getting to the line and turnover margin. The only significant advantage is in threes made (8.5 per game to 4.6 per game). Arkansas will likely need to shoot a good percentage from deep and make a lot more threes than South Carolina to be competitive.