Paul Boyd is a sports reporter for the Northwest Arkansas Democrat-Gazette. He was voted Arkansas Sportswriter of the Year in 2018.
Late shot sinks Razorbacks in Orlando
Arkansas head coach Mike Neighbors reacts in the first half of an NCAA college basketball game against Connecticut, Sunday, Nov. 14, 2021, in Hartford, Conn. (AP Photo/Jessica Hill)
Central Florida is known for its defense, and the Knights came up with a key steal in the waning seconds to hand the University of Arkansas a 52-51 loss Thursday night at Addition Financial Arena in Orlando, Fla.
Diamond Battles poked the ball away and came up with a steal, a few seconds after scoring to give her team the lead for good and send the Razorbacks (6-2) to its second loss on the road.
Arkansas trailed for much of the fourth quarter but took a 51-50 lead on a Sasha Goforth basket with 15 seconds left. It was the Razorbacks’ first lead since the 5:46 mark of the final quarter. But Battles, the only Knight who averages in double figures, answered with what turned out to be the game-winner with eight seconds left.
The Razorbacks’ resiliency on the road is something Arkansas Coach Mike Neighbors sees as a positive to take away from the loss.
“Looked dead in the water there at times,” Neighbors said. “On the road, to see us battle back like that, really, really happy. That will be one of the positives. … In this environment, when it was gonna be a low possession game, every possession being valued like it was good to see the getting down and not wilt, step up and give ourselves a chance there at the end.”
Arkanas’ Makayla Daniels led all scorers with 18 points, including four three-pointers, while Goforth chipped in 11. Tay Sanders led Central Florida with 15, while Battles added 13. Those two combined to go 13 of 19 from the free-throw line, while Arkansas managed just 6 of 8.
Central Florida (6-1) led 48-44 late in the fourth quarter, but Goforth hit a three-pointer to get Arkansas within 48-47 with two minutes left. It was the Razorbacks’ first made three-pointer of the quarter after six consecutive misses.
Arkansas struggled from beyond the three-point line, making 9-of-31 (29%) and also didn’t get to the free-throw line with regularity. Central Florida, which has now won five in a row, enjoyed a big advantage from the foul line, making 19 of 28 and also outrebounded the Razorbacks 39-31 — where the Knights had 16 on the offensive end.
Neighbors said it was tough to point to one specific area that was the difference.
“This is one of those games you go back and you nit-pick one thing at a time in a one-possession game and we’ll learn from all of them. Rebounding was big, obviously they were the more aggressive team. That showed up not only in rebounds but in the free-throw attempts.
“On the road, you can’t have that big a disparity and expect to come out. I still gonna watch the film when we get home and say of those 31 threes, we missed 22. I’m gonna tell you 18 of them were really good shots. … I’d tell you they were good, just didn’t happen to go in. We’ll figure out why we should either stop taking those or we gotta start [making them].”
Arkansas got off to a quick start, leading 10-0 less than five minutes into the game and led 23-20 at halftime. Central Florida fought back, but didn’t lead until Masseny Kaba’s three-point play with 8:59 left in the third quarter for a 25-23 advantage.
The Razorbacks led 39-35 after three quarters, but again the Knights surged with six consecutive points to start the fourth for a 41-39 lead on Kaba’s free throws. with 6:33 remaining.
Arkansas returns home to face California on Sunday afternoon at 1 p.m. in Walton Arena.
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