After two straight heart-wrenching losses in SEC Play, the Missouri Tigers (11-9, 2-5 SEC) prepared for battle against their conference rivals the Arkansas Razorbacks (15-6, 3-3 SEC).
Missouri has struggled with Arkansas recently as they lost three games to the Razorbacks last year with an average margin of defeat of 20.3. In fact, despite playing the ladies in cardinal red at least twice every season, the Tigers have lost 10 straight games to Arkansas dating back to the 2018-19 season.
In the SEC tournament last season, the Tigers gained a sizeable lead with their ability to get hot from beyond the arc to keep up with Arkansas’ quick attacking offense. Missouri continued on with that formula to begin this one, as they started 3-5 from downtown but still found themselves trailing 13-11 despite that.
On multiple occasions, Missouri has been on the precipice of huge conference victories that could potentially catapult them to a run at a bubble spot in the NCAA Tournament, but they just haven’t been able to dig deeper late in games and do the things that need to be done to win a close game.
Riding the back of a 7-0 run to end the first, the Tigers found themselves in relatively unfamiliar territory with the Razorbacks as they held a humble 18-13 lead. Like clockwork, however, the Razorbacks got two big-time shots to begin the quarter and reclaim a lead, while the Tigers went almost three minutes without points to commence the second.
Saylor Poffenbarger has proven to be a problem for Missouri in the past, scoring 24 points in Mizzou Arena last season, and this game was no different. Poffenbarger started the game 4-5 from three, good for 12 points with just over six minutes left in the first half. A majority of these shots came uncontested, as she strategically found ways to constantly get open looks. Not only is Poffenbarger a premier shooter, she is second in the country in rebounds per game despite being a guard. On top of all that, Poffenbarger’s mother played for Missouri in her days, and with tonight being Alumni Night her coach mentioned that it lit a fire for her.
Defensively, Head Coach Robin Pingeton’s group did an excellent job in the first half, forcing eight turnovers. Despite that, a recurring problem has been Missouri’s ability to create points from the turnovers they force, as they only accumulated points 18% of them in the first half.
Amid some late fire from the Razorbacks, they held a tight 29-28 lead over Missouri, setting the stage for a contentious second half. A rather surprising development in the first half, however, was the physicality or lack thereof. Ashton Judd’s two free throws in the second quarter were the only foul shots of the entire first half, even though in most matchups between these two teams the physicality gets turned up a few notches.
After an early three to regain the lead to begin the second half, the Tigers went cold as they went on a scoring drought that lasted over three minutes for the second time in this game. Luckily for them, Arkansas’ offense was relatively tame and mitigated throughout that Tiger offensive hiatus, and they were only at a 38-33 deficit.
An uncharacteristic conundrum in this game was the absence of scoring from the veteran forward Hayley Frank, who had just tallied two points with about 2:40 left in the third quarter. Thankfully, one of her partners in crime, Ashton Judd, was able to mitigate that with 17 points of her own at that point, and Judd was the one who dished it to Frank for a wide open three that knotted the game up at 41. Judd would finish the game with 21 points, a career-high in conference play for the sophomore.
“I credit her [Ashton] on mentally staying the course and continuing to fight and battle through,” Pingeton said. “She played with some physicality and confidence and was really aggressive offensively.”
A buzzer-beating three at the end of the third gave the Razorbacks a slim 49-48 lead heading into the final stanza, but it was Poffenbarger stealing the show early to start the fourth. Poffenbarger drained three threes to put her tally to eight, giving Arkansas a somewhat comfortable 58-52 lead.
“She’s got such deep range and she’s a hard guard,” Pingeton said. “She can create off the bounce and can post up, and obviously this was a special night for her.”
The aforementioned nitty gritty that the Tigers just hadn’t been able to succeed in thus far seemed to be getting a hold of them again; they just couldn’t find a way to combat the flurry of shots from the opposition, and a loss here surely would put the nail in the coffin for the Tigers’ tournament hopes.
Arkansas slowly crawled away from the Tigers in this game, gashing them in the paint and quietly developing a commanding 64-54 lead with just over two minutes left.
The Razorbacks would maintain that lead throughout the end of the game with little to no resistance from the Tigers, and cruise on to a 67-58 victory. The victory marked the Tigers' second three-game losing streak in conference play, moving them to 2-6 in the SEC on the season and 11-10 overall.
“We looked a little fatigued out there today,” Pingeton said. “Didn’t make the 50/50 plays the way we had been consistently.”
Unless the impossible happens, I just can’t see this team finding its way into the tournament. With this many losses in conference play already, they’d have to rack up an impressive amount of wins to get back in the hunt.
Statistically, Arkansas shot 45% from the field while Missouri shot 38%. Most stats were relatively even, though Arkansas had three more shots from beyond the arc than the Tigers and that proved to be the difference in this nine-point game. Additionally, while Missouri was able to force more turnovers than Arkansas, the Razorbacks led 14-7 in the points off turnovers column, a common theme lately.
UP NEXT: The Tigers have a week off before heading to Knoxville to take on the Tennessee Lady Vols (12-7, 5-2 SEC) at 1pm.