FAYETTEVILLE — Taliah Scott had different reactions to many of her field goals Sunday.
She flapped her arms, encouraging the fans to make more noise. She hit a corner three-pointer and left her dominant right hand in the air. Other times, she just ran back on defense.
She wouldn’t, couldn’t, be stopped against Auburn.
The Arkansas women’s basketball freshman guard, who missed six games with a back injury before returning against Alabama on Thursday, may have saved the Razorbacks’ season in the 74-72 win.
Arkansas and Auburn entered on the NCAA Tournament bubble, each needing something to separate themselves from other dwellers.
If there was one thing to do that, at least Sunday, it was Scott. Once she hit her first deep shot of the second half, forcing the Tigers to call a timeout as she basked in the endearing cheers of those at Bud Walton Arena, there was a shift. She scored 17 of her game-high 33 points in the third quarter.
Without her momentum- and potentially season-shifting effort, the win may instead have been a bubble-bursting loss.
“When she makes one or two, then I don’t have to say a word. It just finds her,” Arkansas coach Mike Neighbors said. He then called back to the old NBA Jam video game. “‘She’s heating up.’ I just kept hearing that in the back of my head every time she’d make one.”
Something needs to differentiate the dancers and those without a ballroom invitation. For the Razorbacks, the envelope — should it come — may be addressed to Scott.
“It’s no limit. It’s just how high my confidence is,” Scott said. “It’s just going to keep flying; I’m just going to keep letting it fly. I caught my rhythm.”
The postseason magnitude of a win like Sunday’s can’t be downplayed. ESPN’s most recent "Last Four In" — Tennessee, Washington, Auburn and Maryland — went 1-3 in their most recent games. The "First Four Out" and "Next Four Out," which is where Arkansas stood going into the game, went a combined 5-3. The Razorbacks, with a loss, may have found themselves with little chance of getting in.
“I just want it to be a no-brainer,” Neighbors said. “I don’t want there to have to be all these great stories that we try to convince people. I want us to be good enough, and I think that we are.”
Someone needed to be the difference.
That, particularly in the third quarter, was Scott. Her 17 third-quarter points outscored Auburn’s 11 total.
Neighbors said getting Scott the ball wasn’t an emphasis in the second half. He wanted a quicker pace. That has often come because Scott hit shots. Once the first three hit nylon and Auburn called time, the equation was solved.
“My teammates were getting me the ball in great positions where I was able to score, make my moves and get to the basket. My shot started falling,” Scott told SEC Network. “It wasn’t falling in the first half. It started going down and I just started feeling it, just heat checking it.”
This doesn’t cement anything or guarantee a tournament berth, but it adds soap to what looks like a wobbling bubble. There are plenty of ledges and points ahead that could get rid of those hopes. But for now, at least, they’re alive.
In no small part, that’s thanks to a freshman sharpshooter who can ignite at any moment. If she makes a contested shot, takes a charge or simply finds a rhythm, Scott becomes nearly impossible to guard.
Double team her and she’ll find an open shooter; face guard and she’ll drive to the basket; play off her and she’ll hit a three.
“I mean, she was in a zone,” Auburn coach Johnnie Harris said. “It’s just really hard to deal with her when she’s in a zone like that.”
The Tigers defended Scott better in the fourth quarter, but she still added nine points to her total.
That’s the kind of player Scott is — the kind who can get hot at any moment, who can find ways around different coverages and be impactful when she becomes the opposition’s focal point. That’s who she is and what she means to this Arkansas team.
Neighbors, after the recorders were stopped and conversations turned casual, still raved about his leading frosh. Before exiting the media room, he left with a proclamation.
“You’ve seen nothing yet," he said.
For a team hoping for an NCAA Tournament berth, knowing Scott can do what she’s done and still do more can be the distinction between dancing or Selection Sunday melancholy.
For at least one game, Scott showed she may be the difference between the promised land and demise.