Florida erases 10-point deficit, defeats Arkansas women's basketball

Arkansas guard Samara Spencer is shown dribbling, Thursday, Feb. 8, 2024, during the Razorbacks' 85-81 loss to Florida at the O'Connell Center in Gainesville, Fla. (Noah Southard/Arkansas Athletics)

The Arkansas women’s basketball team let a 10-point lead slip away in the fourth quarter and lost to Florida 85-81 Thursday at the O’Connell Center in Gainesville, Fla.

The Razorbacks (17-8, 5-5 SEC) led 71-61 after the third quarter, their largest lead of the game, but were outscored 24-10 over the final 10 minutes.

With the loss, Arkansas moved to 4-15 all-time in Gainesville. The last time the Razorbacks won at Florida was during the 2018-19 season.

Florida (12-9, 3-6) scored 20 points off 17 takeaways, including 4 costly turnovers by Arkansas in the fourth quarter. Trailing 76-75 with 4:27 remaining, the Gators got back-to-back steals they took coast-to-coast for layups.

“I felt like we turned it over for touchdowns both of those times,” Arkansas coach Mike Neighbors said. “It didn't give our defense even a chance. You turn it over near midcourt or in the backcourt and the next thing you know, we're listening to the Florida fight song over and over.

“Turnovers that led to points…. indefensible. We weren't great defensively anyway, but certainly not on the ones where we've got no chance. I felt like that's what ignited both of their runs.”

Arkansas tied the game at 79-79 with a three-point play by Makayla Daniels, who was 8-of-12 shooting and scored a game-high 26 points, but a three from Florida’s Zippy Broughton on a broken play gave Florida a lead it never lost.

The Razorbacks were scoreless over the final 3:20 and fell to .500 in SEC play. Perhaps more importantly, their NCAA Tournament resume took a hit. Arkansas entered the game at No. 62 in the NET rankings. Florida was No. 59.

“We're sitting at 5-5,” Neighbors said. “We're .500 in the league. We've lived in that area an awful lot. 

"I don't look at it as a blown lead. I know that's easy to do. That's low-hanging fruit to me. We fought, we got that lead, and the fact that we couldn't hold onto it is troublesome."

Neighbors said his team, which trailed 23-14 after the first quarter, matches highs with “awful” lows.

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“Our good is really, really good,” Neighbors said. “Those clips [in a film session] would all be together. And then when it goes south, it clusters again…. Our bad is awful. We've got to cut the awful parts out — just don't be terrible for four minutes.

“There is no bottom to this league this year. Some years there are, but not this year. There's not a game that you go into that you can survive a four-minute stretch of being awful. You get exposed.”

It appeared the Razorbacks were on their way to a quality win after they strung together solid second and third quarters.

Arkansas shot 11 of 17 (64.7%) in a 35-point second quarter, which was capped by a steal and score at the buzzer by Saylor Poffenbarger to give the Razorbacks a 48-46 halftime lead.

The third quarter was more of the same for Arkansas, which outscored the Gators 23-15 behind 6-of-11 (54.5%) shooting and a 9-of-9 performance at the free-throw line.

The Razorbacks were perfect on 20 free-throw attempts in the game. It was the most free throws Arkansas has ever made in a game without missing. The previous best was a 10-of-10 performance against Florida on Feb. 22, 2004.

Daniels was on fire for Arkansas. She made her first seven looks from the field, five of which were three-pointers.

Freshman guard Taliah Scott also got hot and scored nine of her 20 points in the third quarter. Arkansas held Florida to 6-of-18 shooting in the period, and it looked as if the Razorbacks had seized control.

The Gators went on a 7-0 run in less than three minutes to open the fourth quarter and made it clear they would not be going away.

Leilani Correa, who came into the game leading the SEC with 24.1 points per game in league play, scored 9 of her team-best 20 points in the fourth quarter. Aliyah Matharu was rewarded with fast-break layups on the momentum-shifting consecutive steals and scores that gave the Gators the lead late.

Arkansas had a chance to tie the game down 84-81 with 6 seconds remaining, but a three-pointer by Daniels rattled out.

Matharu scored 17 points in 26 minutes, and Florida junior guard Jeriah Warren had a 12-point, 13-rebound double-double. Florida shot 32 of 72 (44.4%) from the floor, 11 of 22 (50%) from three-point range and 10 of 11 (90.9%) from the foul line.

Daniels (26 points), Scott (20), Poffenbarger (15) and Spencer (13) all scored in double figures for the Razorbacks. Poffenbarger had 12 rebounds to record her seventh double-double of the season.

Arkansas is scheduled to play at Tennessee on Monday at 7 p.m.