Second quarter doomed Arkansas women's basketball in loss to Alabama

Arkansas coach Mike Neighbors watches Thursday, Feb. 1, 2024, during the second half of the Razorbacks' 86-70 loss to Alabama in Bud Walton Arena in Fayetteville. (/Andy Shupe/NWA Democrat-Gazette)

FAYETTEVILLE — The Arkansas women’s basketball team and Alabama appeared to be in a shootout early Thursday night. 

The Crimson Tide held a 20-19 lead after the first quarter, with both teams firing from the three-point line and having the makings of an entertaining evening at Bud Walton Arena.

Then, in what became a 86-70 loss for the Razorbacks, the second quarter happened.

Arkansas was outscored 23-6 in the frame, including a 19-3 Alabama run over the final 6:24 of the half. The Razorbacks ended the first quarter shooting better than 40% from the field, but ended the half at 25%. 

The Tide, in every facet, were better in the second.

“This isn’t volleyball where you can have one bad set, you flush it away and you go win the other three sets,” Arkansas coach Mike Neighbors said. “You can’t do that; that’s too big a deficit. It was the ‘how’ it happened, not necessarily that it did happen.”

Neighbors didn’t mince words postgame — he said it came down to effort. He doesn’t typically speak to his team after games. He did Thursday. 

Forward Saylor Poffenbarger said she saw a performance like Thursday’s coming in the previous days of practice.

“It’s February. It shouldn’t be that way,” Neighbors said. “I told them to show up and fight like the third lion at Noah’s Ark and it’s raining. Sky’s not falling, but that effort was poor. It was disappointing.”

Offensively, Alabama hit its threes and got to the rim for layups and fouls. On the other end, the Tide forced turnovers, shared the ball, forced bad shots and held the Razorbacks scoreless for nearly the final four minutes, a stretch that saw Arkansas score once in its final 11 field goal attempts.

Alabama scored a layup off a steal on the opening possession of the second half to extend its lead to 20 points. The end-of-half run effectively ended Arkansas’ hopes Thursday night. It hurts the Hogs’ NCAA Tournament hopes, but doesn’t end them.

It adds that much more pressure to Sunday’s game against fellow bubble-dweller Auburn.

“I think how we come back is going to be everything for us,” Poffenbarger said. “We’ve continued to bounce back every other game and I think that’ll just show if we can survive in this league. We have everything it takes, we just have to be willing to have that fight and it’s going to be a little harder this time.”

Each of the other three quarters were competitive. The second simply wasn’t. 

The Razorbacks outscored the Tide by one point in the first, third and fourth quarters combined, but the 17-point deficit in the second was simply too much to overcome.

Alabama can play and pace and run teams out of the gym. That happened in the second frame. A 12-0 Arkansas run in the fourth quarter made things interesting, but the damage was done.

“[The Tide] just played to their advantages, their personnel. They played exactly how they were supposed to,” Poffenbarger said. “When you don’t have two good days of practice, it’s hard to have confidence going in.”

Neighbors said his rare postgame team speech was greeted by plenty of nodding and agreement. Effort and focus need to improve, otherwise the bubble and tournament committee may not be so kind. 

What started in practice led to the second-quarter collapse. What starts in the next sessions can lead to better days.

That’s the challenge, the ultimatum. Everything starts with the response and whatever happens against Auburn on Sunday.

“It’s really the first time we’ve played like that, and I told them if there’s a reason rather than an excuse, I need to know about it,” Neighbors said. “We’ll figure it out. I think they will figure it out — it’s best if they do.

"I will look for answers. I will look for things that maybe I’ve neglected.”