With leading scorer sidelined, Daniels leads Arkansas women to 40-point win

Arkansas guard Makayla Daniels (43) drives around Georgia's Jordan Cole during a game Sunday, Jan. 7, 2024, in Fayetteville.

FAYETTEVILLE — Makayla Daniels ran off the court with a bounce in her step and a huge smile on her face.

A big win will do that and Daniels and her Arkansas teammates certainly accomplished that with an 83-43 blowout win against Georgia on Sunday in Bud Walton Arena.

Daniels scored a game-high 24 points, including her team's first nine points of the game, and carried that confidence from start to finish as Arkansas recorded the third-largest margin of victory in an SEC game in program history.

And the Razorbacks did it with their leading scorer on the bench.

Freshman sensation Taliah Scott missed the game with an undisclosed injury, removing 22 points per game from the Arkansas lineup. Daniels and her teammates covered that absence and then some.

“I've felt myself being less aggressive the past few games, so I knew I had to come out more aggressive today,” said Daniels, who knocked down 5 three-pointers to go with 7 rebounds and 5 steals. “I knew this game, we didn't know who was going to be the leading scorer, but we knew we were going to get our easy shots, so that was our focus in practice the past few days.”

Arkansas coach Mike Neighbors said the team first learned of Scott's injury Friday, so they had time to prepare to play without her.

Carly Keats started in place of Scott, and the sophomore guard had a lights-out, 40-minute effort. She scored a career-high 16 points.

“Carly had two great days of practice,” Neighbors said. “We have a lot of confidence in Carly, so we knew she was ready and she was.”

The Razorbacks (13-4, 1-1 SEC) rebounded from a 73-63 loss to Kentucky in the SEC opener on Thursday, a game in which they scored just 14 first-half points. 

On Sunday, Arkansas scored 49 points in the first half and never trailed after taking a 9-2 lead. Daniels drained a corner three-pointer on her first shot of the game, added a three-point play, then a second three-pointer for the 9-2 lead with 7 minutes, 46 seconds left in the opening quarter. 

It was never close after that.

“That settled me down, for sure, to hit that first shot,” Daniels said. “When you miss a couple of shots early, you press a little. But that first one was an easy one and it led us into a better flow.”

Neighbors said the fast start, particularly with Daniels hitting the early three-pointers, gave the entire a team a jolt of confidence. 

“Shooting is absolutely contagious,” Neighbors said. “You can see that with our team. When we hit those shots early, the whole team seems to feed off of that.”

Arkansas only had one turnover in the first half and led 49-18 at halftime.

“I don't know that we can play much better than we did in the first half,” Neighbors said. “When we went in at halftime, I didn't want to say anything to change our mindset. But we knew Georgia was going to try and make a run in the third and our players responded.”

Saylor Poffenbarger, who had a double-double with 15 points and 17 rebounds, answered the Georgia surge with one of her own. She hit 3 three-pointers in the third quarter, which squelched any comeback Georgia (10-5, 1-1) might have entertained.

The Razorbacks never let their foot off the pedal and filled the stat sheet with 14 three-pointers, forced 20 turnovers, had 12 steals and out-rebounded Georgia 51-40.

Samara Spencer also scored 15 points for Arkansas and handed out four assists. 

Georgia's leading scorer, Javyn Nicholson, recorded her seventh consecutive double-double with 17 points and 10 rebounds, but was never really a factor once Arkansas took the big lead. No other Georgia player scored more than seven points.

Neighbors said they should know more about Scott's injury Monday.

“It kind of happened at a weird time when we could not get her in to see the doctor,” Neighbors said. “We were being very precautionary and we'll know a lot more [Monday]. We had two days of practice without her. She didn't practice either of the two days. 

"You don't ever want to lose a player, much less and player who has played like she has, but it allowed us two days of practice, so it wasn't like we found out at tipoff, which can be tough. I thought what it did is it allowed our kids to rally around Keats.”

Arkansas will return to action at home Thursday with an 8 p.m. game against Mississippi State.