Tournament hopes take a hit for Arkansas women's basketball with loss at Florida

Arkansas forward Maryam Dauda contests a shot by Florida guard Jeriah Warren, Thursday, Feb. 8, 2024, during a 85-81 loss for the Razorbacks at O'Connell Center in Gainesville, Fla. (Noah Southard/Arkansas Athletics)

The Arkansas women’s basketball team cruised into the fourth quarter. 

Ten-point lead. Makayla Daniels hadn’t missed a shot, from the field or the free-throw line. The offense was clicking. The defense was thriving. 

Everything pointed to the Razorbacks getting their fourth win in five games and solidifying their position in the NCAA Tournament chase.

Florida only scored 15 points in the third quarter. If Arkansas could keep that defensive pressure up, the game would be as good as won. 

It did not happen.

The fourth quarter was a collapse, a capitulation, of huge proportions — the kind that will hurt the Razorbacks’ postseason hopes. Losing 85-81 to Florida, which came off a 40-point loss to LSU, may burst Arkansas’ tournament bubble.

Coach Mike Neighbors pointed to turnovers, defense and streaks of poor play. Florida scored 20 points off 17 Razorbacks turnovers.

“I felt like we turned it over for touchdowns,” he said. “Next thing you know, we’re listening to the Florida fight song over and over. The turnovers that led to points were indefensible.”

Those may be the autopsy results if Arkansas (17-8, 5-5 SEC) doesn’t hear its name called on Selection Sunday.

“We fought, we got that lead. The fact that we couldn’t hold onto it is troublesome,” Neighbors said. “Our good is really good and our bad is awful. We’ve got to cut the awful parts out and just not be terrible for four minutes.

“Be some other term, but we can’t be awful in this league. There is no bottom in this league this year. Some years there are; not this year.”

The Gators’ adjustments in the final stanza were commendable. 

Florida held Arkansas, which had gotten hot from deep, to one three-pointer in the fourth quarter and 4 of 14 from the field. No Razorback scored more than one field goal after the third.

The Gators emphasized the offensive glass. They grabbed eight second-half offensive rebounds and scored seven second-chance points. 

Leilani Correa scored nine points in the fourth quarter. Arkansas was 19 of 19 from the free-throw line in the first three quarters before Florida walled up and did not initiate as much contact.

The Razorbacks made their lone foul shot in the final 10 minutes.

Everything went the Gators’ way. Nothing, bar Saylor Poffenbarger’s shot-clock beating heave that gave the illusion of momentum, went Arkansas’ way.

“It has to hurt. Hopefully this one does hurt a little bit,” Nieghbors said. “There will be no off day because there’s too many things from the film that we’ve got to look at and get fixed for these last six SEC games.”

Arkansas has responded well to losses and adversity throughout the season. The Razorbacks need more of that, particularly with postseason hopefuls Tennessee, Ole Miss, Texas A&M and Vanderbilt ahead on the schedule, along with a daunting task against top-ranked South Carolina.

But there comes a time when there are too many responses needed, particularly in the heated search for an NCAA Tournament berth. If that hasn’t already arrived, it’s getting close, tailing in the rearview or passing on the right side.

A fourth-quarter loss means another rebound is needed. 

But the question of how many is too many now becomes prevalent. Florida and a four-point difference after a 10-point lead may be the deciding factor.

The margin of error, if one remains, is miniscule.