FAYETTEVILLE — Entering Sunday's game against No. 2 UCLA, Arkansas women’s basketball coach Mike Neighbors said his team would be playing a Final Four-caliber team.
The Bruins (7-0) looked the part of a championship contender in front of an announced 4,261 at Bud Walton Arena.
UCLA went on a 15-0 run in the second quarter, which paved the way for an 81-66 victory over the Razorbacks. The Bruins turned a 20-17 lead into 39-19 in a span of 4 minutes, 9 seconds.
“I think we'll look at that,” Neighbors said of the big run that blew open the game. “That's probably the 15 points we'll watch. That's the type of team I have now. They don't want to watch some of the good stuff. They want to watch the worst of the worst. So that's probably what we'll watch.”
During the second quarter, UCLA outscored the Razorbacks 30-19 and shot 69% from the field, including 3 of 6 from three-point range. Neighbors credited the Bruins for making his team pay for any mistake it made during the sequence.
“You get one thing stopped and it's this,” Neighbors said, "and you stop that and then it's this. That's what they do. They work at it. They've got a really good system.
“You guard one thing, and they get to the next one, and they’ve got a player standing there wide open…. I don't know that we could have played any harder. Maybe we could have played a little smarter.”
Arkansas (7-2), fresh off a road upset at No. 15 Florida State, got off to a quick start. Back-to-back three-pointers from Saylor Poffenbarger and Maryam Dauda gave the Razorbacks a 6-0 advantage just more than a minute into the game.
UCLA answered with a 15-2 run, a stretch that included three field goals inside from the 6-7 Lauren Betts. The Razorbacks trailed 20-14 entering the second quarter.
Betts finished 9 of 9 from the floor and scored a team-high 20 points in 25 minutes, and also had 10 rebounds and 2 blocks.
“I just felt like she was every bit of 6-7,” said Dauda, who is 6-4 and was one of many tasked with trying to stop Betts. “Going against her was hard, but we just had to fight and make sure to get her out of position and have her turn the ball over more consistently than she did in the past few games.”
It worked in spurts — Betts had 3 of the Bruins’ 22 turnovers — but the Razorbacks scored only 13 points off turnovers. UCLA turned 12 Arkansas turnovers into 22 points.
UCLA owned the third quarter and took a commanding 72-44 lead into the final period.
Arkansas showed fight in the fourth quarter and pulled within 77-63 with four minutes remaining. The Razorbacks used a full-court press for most of the stretch, which led to seven turnovers by UCLA.
Freshman guard Taliah Scott scored 12 of her game-high 23 points in the fourth quarter. She was 3 of 4 from three-point range in the final 10 minutes, which included a 4-point play.
“We fought until the end, and I really credit this team for doing that,” Scott said. “We had a lot of energy down the stretch even though we were down big at one point. It just shows that we're fighters and willing to compete for four quarters with the best teams in the country. I applaud this team for that.”
The Razorbacks were 9 of 24 (37.5%) from three, compared to 8 of 26 (30.8%) for the Bruins. With the attention Arkansas was giving Betts and others inside, UCLA coach Cori Close was pleased her team did not shy away from taking good looks from deep.
“It's a hard balance to find,” Close said. “They're sending two to three people inside. I told them at the timeout, 'I want you to shoot the right threes, don't fall in love with the quick three.' It’s still such a huge advantage.”
Dauda (14 points), Saylor Poffenbarger (12) and Makayla Daniels (10) each scored in double figures for the Razorbacks. Poffenbarger led the team with seven rebounds.
Kiki Rice and Londynn Jones scored 12 points apiece, and Gabriela Jaquez had 10 to lead UCLA. The Bruins, who averaged a +20.7-rebound margin entering the game, out-rebounded Arkansas 56-26. They scored 20 second-chance points off their rebounds.
“They've put together a good team,” Neighbors said. ”There's a lot of people out there that went into the portal and just collected talent. They built a team around who they had...coming back.”
The game concluded a four-game stretch against Power 6 conference teams for the Razorbacks. Their past three games came against AP Top 25 opponents
“If you would have said during that stretch we were going to go 2-2, I think a lot of people probably would have said, ‘OK,’ not even knowing which two they were,” Neighbors said. “We learned a lot, and I think you'll see it come out in the next five games.”
Neighbors said his team has good learners.
“I think our kids are listening in film [sessions],” Neighbors said. “I think they're watching in film. I think some of our adversity has pulled us together as a unit more than ever. I'd be remiss if I didn't mention the job that [Daniels] has done as a leader. It kind of felt like her team a lot last year, but there were times that she wasn't maybe ready.
“This is her team. She's been able to lead us through the rough times.”
The Razorbacks are scheduled to host Louisiana Tech on Thursday at 7 p.m.