Alabama women's basketball team returns the favor at Arkansas

Alabama guard Sarah Ashlee Barker (3) collects a rebound Thursday, Feb. 1, 2024, in front of Arkansas forward Maryam Dauda (30) during the first half of play in Bud Walton Arena in Fayetteville. (Andy Shupe/NWA Democrat-Gazette)

FAYETTEVILLE — Eighteen days after being defeated by 18 points at home by the Arkansas women’s basketball team, Alabama returned the favor with an 86-70 victory over the Razorbacks on Thursday night at Bud Walton Arena.

Alabama (17-6, 4-4 SEC) used a dominant second quarter to create separation and withheld a late Arkansas rally to snap the Razorbacks' two-game winning streak.

Arkansas (16-7, 4-4) was outscored 23-6 in the second quarter, including 19-3 over the final 6:24 of the first half. That stretch proved to be the difference in the game.

Seventh-year Arkansas coach Mike Neighbors said he was not pleased with his team’s effort, and that the Razorbacks will be beaten by any team in the league if it plays that way.

“Their effort was noticeably different,” Neighbors said of the Crimson Tide. “Noticeably different from the time before, and noticeably different than ours. It was glaring. Disappointing, because February shouldn't be that way.

“If you don't play good, OK, fine. If you don't shoot good, OK, fine. If you don't do other things good, OK, fine. But if you don't play hard or in February [it’s not fine]." 

Alabama led by as many as 25 points after halftime. Arkansas pulled as close as 76-67 with 3:38 remaining, but was outscored 10-3 the rest of the way.

“This isn't volleyball where you can have that one bad set and you flush it away, and you go win the other three sets,” Neighbors said. “You can't do that. That's too big of a deficit.”

The Crimson Tide made 30 of 60 shots (50%) from the floor and 12 of 27 (44%) from three-point range. They limited Arkansas to 24-of-68 (35%) shooting.

Alabama scored 27 more points than it did during a 77-59 loss to Arkansas on Jan. 14 in Tuscaloosa, Ala.

“The box score is very similar to what they came and took from us in Tuscaloosa,” Alabama coach Kristy Curry said. “We felt like if we could shore up some areas, protect the paint better, make sure we kept them off the free-throw line and rebounded the ball better, [we could win].

“It’s just very similar [but] it was on the good side for us tonight. It's just a credit to our kids and the toughness and the grit.”

The Razorbacks and Crimson Tide, who entered ranked first and third in the SEC in three-pointers taken per game, respectively, did not shy away from deep shots in the first quarter.

The teams combined for 19 three-point shots in the opening 10 minutes. Alabama was 3 of 7 and Arkansas was 5 of 12.

Alabama's Sarah Ashlee Barker made a three 20 seconds into the contest. Arkansas' Maryam Dauda answered with a three-point make of her own 16 seconds later to knot the game at 3-3.

It was a back-and-forth first quarter. Dauda’s second make beyond the arc gave the Razorbacks a 14-11 lead, but Jessica Timmons knotted the game again with a three-pointer.

Alabama took a 20-16 lead, but a Saylor Poffenbarger triple with 47 seconds left in the first quarter pulled Arkansas within 20-19 entering the second quarter.

The Crimson Tide owned the final 10 minutes of the half. They limited the Razorbacks to 2-of-19 (11%) shooting from the floor during the period. Alabama simultaneously caught fire, shooting 8 of 13 (62%) in the second quarter.

“It'll be easy to point that out tomorrow to the kids, and they'll see it,” Neighbors said. “I won't have to point it out. They'll look at it and go, ‘Wait, we got outscored by 17 and [the loss] was by 16. That means we won the rest of the game.’ 

“That's what it takes in basketball. Just one [bad quarter], and it can be enough to make the difference in the game.”

Barker, who entered the game seventh in the SEC averaging 16.6 points per game, scored 14 of her game-high 25 points in the second half.

Poffenbarger made a three-pointer early in the third quarter to pull Arkansas within 47-32 and forced an Alabama timeout. The Crimson Tide recovered and led 71-51 going to the fourth quarter.

Nye led the SEC with 71 three-point makes entering the contest (3.2 per game) and was 3 of 7 from distance against the Razorbacks. She scored 15 points, which were third most to Barker’s 25 and Karly Weather’s 16 for the Tide.

Arkansas held Nye to five points when the teams played in January.

The Razorbacks made things interesting late in the fourth quarter when they pulled within 76-65 with 4:26 remaining on a Taliah Scott three-point play.

Samara Spencer brought Arkansas within 76-67 with two free throws, but Barker made back-to-back layups to extend the Alabama lead to 80-67.

Makayla Daniels hit a three-pointer with 2:23 to play to draw the deficit to 80-70, but Weathers countered with her own three to make the Alabama lead 13 again.

Weathers was 4 of 6 from distance to pace the Crimson Tide from beyond the arc.

Poffenbarger was a bright spot for Arkansas. She scored 23 points on 9-of-18 shooting to go along with 11 rebounds in 30 minutes. It was her seventh double-double of the season.

Both Neighbors and Poffenbarger said bad practices led to the result.

“This started like two days ago in practice,” Poffenbarger said. “I think our approach was different. I think we didn't have the fight we should have had the whole first three quarters, and I think that you’re not going to beat a good team in the SEC if you play like that.”

Spencer added 14 points and 7 rebounds, and Daniels scored 11 points with 5 assists for Arkansas.

Scott, whose 22.3 points per game were most in the SEC entering Thursday, returned from a six-game absence. Scott had not played since a Jan. 4 loss at Kentucky due to a back injury, and finished with 10 points on 3-of-14 shooting.

Arkansas fell into a three-way tie with Alabama and Vanderbilt for sixth place in the SEC.

It was Alabama’s second consecutive victory in Fayetteville. The Crimson Tide won 69-66 last season when Hannah Barber hit a go-ahead three-pointer with eight seconds remaining.

Alabama assistant coach Tennille Adams, who played for Arkansas from 1995-99 and was part of the Razorbacks' 1998 Final Four team, made a return to her alma mater. She is in her first season as an assistant for the Crimson Tide.

The Razorbacks are scheduled to host Auburn at 5 p.m. Sunday on SEC Network.