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Tolefree breaks through in Year 2 as a Razorback

by Paul Boyd | February 6, 2020 at 2:21 a.m.
Arkansas guard Alexis Tolefree flexes after a score against Missouri on Sunday, Jan. 12, 2020 at Bud Walton Arena in Fayetteville.

FAYETTEVILLE -- Alexis Tolefree admits her first season at the University of Arkansas didn't go the way she wanted.

She took responsibility for that and spent more time in the gym during the offseason working on her shot. The extra effort has paid off for the 5-8 sharpshooter from Conway.

Tolefree at a glance

School Arkansas

Position Guard

Height 5-8

Class Senior

Notable Poured in a career-high 35 points in Sunday’s comeback victory over Missouri. … Scored 13 in the fourth quarter to help the Razorbacks rally from a 13-point deficit in the final five minutes to force overtime and eventually earn the win. … Tied for 18th in the nation in three-point field goal percentage (43.8%) and tied for 14th in total three-pointers made (64).

No. 25 Arkansas vs. No. 1 South Carolina

WHEN 7:30 p.m. today

WHERE Walton Arena, Fayetteville

RECORDS Arkansas 18-4, 6-3 SEC; South Carolina 21-1, 9-0 SEC

SERIES South Carolina leads 19-18.

RADIO Razorback Sports Network

TELEVISION SEC Network

INTERNET arkansasrazorbacks.com

PROBABLE STARTING LINEUPS

ARKANSAS

POS. NAME, HT, YR PPG RPG

G Chelsea Dungee, 5-11, Jr. 17.9 4.9

G Amber Ramirez, 5-9, Jr. 15.0 3.5

G Makayla Daniels, 5-8, Fr. 9.6 1.8

G Alexis Tolefree, 5-8, Sr. 14.3 4.2

F Taylah Thomas, 6-1, Jr. 6.0 7.4

COACH Mike Neighbors (53-37 in third season at Arkansas)

SOUTH CAROLINA

POS. NAME, HT, YR PPG RPG

G Zia Cooke, 5-9, Fr. 12.4 3.1

G Tyasha Harris, 5-10, Sr. 12.0 3.5

G Brea Beal, 6-1, Fr. 6.4 5.8

F Aliyah Boston, 6-5, Fr. 13.0 8.7

F M. Herbert Harrigan, 6-2, Sr. 12.4 5.5

COACH Dawn Staley (294-98 in 12th season at South Carolina)

TEAM COMPARISON

South Carolina Arkansas

83.3 Points for 84.1

56.0 Points against 62.9

+12.8 Rebound margin -2.6

+3.0 Turnover margin +6.0

46.8 FG pct. 44.3

36.4 3-pt pct. 37.7

69.0 FT pct. 73.5

CHALK TALK The top-ranked Gamecocks come into Walton Arena riding a 16-game winning streak. Their lone loss came to Indiana on Nov. 28 in the Virgin Islands. … South Carolina may not be at full strength as 6-5 freshman Aliyah Boston suffered a knee injury in the Gamecocks’ victory over Tennessee on Sunday. Boston dominated the Razorbacks to the tune of 19 points and 25 rebounds in the first meeting, which South Carolina won 91-82.

— Paul Boyd

Tolefree ranks among the top three-point shooters in the country and has seen her scoring average rise in SEC play. She poured in a career-high 35 points and keyed a huge fourth-quarter comeback at Missouri on Sunday.

Coach Mike Neighbors called Tolefree "irreplaceable" in helping No. 25 Arkansas (18-4, 6-3 SEC) pick up two SEC road wins. He also spoke about Tolefree's growth from last year when she shot 28.7% from three-point range.

The added maturity showed up Sunday after Tolefree's slow start.

"She hadn't played great up to that point," Neighbors said. "But she got going, and we got contagious, and everybody got going down the stretch.

"I think it's a sign of growth for her. Last year, she would have had her head down instead of up, and she doesn't finish well. She was so instrumental in bringing everybody back and finishing that run."

Tolefree is second on the team in scoring at 15.2 ppg, and she leads the team by making 43.8% of her three-pointers (64 of 146). That scoring average has jumped in SEC play to a team-best 17.8 ppg.

That's quite a change from last year for the junior-college transfer from Jones College in Mississippi. She averaged 10.2 ppg for the season, but scored just 7.4 ppg in SEC competition.

Tolefree said the transition from junior college was difficult, both on the court and in the classroom.

"Last year was kind of a smack in the face," she said. "Shooting [28.7% on three-pointers], it's not something as a good basketball player that I want to do. I've matured a little bit. Last year was a wake-up call for me. I saw what not being in the gym did.

"It was hard going to classes where there were 30 people to 300. I think the classes were the hardest part. Going from a place where everybody knew me to not knowing anybody was tough."

Tolefree almost ended up at a different SEC school. She signed with Ole Miss while still at Jones College, but when the previous coach was fired, she was released from her obligation and reopened her recruitment. She took a visit to Mississippi State, where her Conway High School teammate Jordan Danberry had transferred after a stint at Arkansas.

Tolefree went from Starkville, Miss., straight to Fayetteville for her next visit, and she made a connection with Neighbors quickly.

"He was very authentic," Tolefree said. "He said, 'I can't tell you if we're going to win games. I can't tell you if we're going to be in the Final Four. But I can tell you you'll get the most of your time here. I'm bringing in kids that I have faith in.' I trusted him on that."

Neighbors stuck with her last season through the struggles.

"I had coach's support no matter what," Tolefree said. "That was a really big deal. Most coaches would have benched me. They woulda said, 'She needs to get it together. I recruited her to come play basketball.' Coach Neighbors had my back. They trusted me to get it back together."

A slow adjustment from junior college is not unusual, Neighbors said.

"She learned her lesson a little bit," Neighbors said. "She's been in the gym more often, and as a result the results are there. It's tough for junior-college kids. It's a two-year deal a lot of times. You have to know that as a coach. It's normal. You can't rush the process."

Sports on 02/06/2020

Print Headline: Tolefree breaks through in Year 2 as a Razorback

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