Arkansas women's basketball season ends with WBIT loss to Tulsa

Arkansas guard Carly Keats is shown dribbling the ball, Thursday, March 21, 2024, during the first round of the Women's Basketball Invitation Tournament at the Donald W. Reynolds Center in Tulsa, Okla. (Photo courtesy of Arkansas Athletics)

TULSA, Okla. — Tulsa led by as many as 28 points in the first half and cruised to an 80-62 victory over Arkansas in the first round of the Women’s Basketball Invitation Tournament on Thursday evening at the Reynolds Center.

The loss ended Arkansas' (18-15) season. The Razorbacks, who were down to eight available players, lost their final six games of the season by an average of 22.2 points.

Tulsa (24-9) will face the winner of Washington-Georgetown in the WBIT second round Sunday at a time and location to be announced.

Arkansas concluded the season with a 54.5% win percentage, the program’s worst since 2017-18, which was the first season under seventh-year coach Mike Neighbors.

The Golden Hurricane won the American Athletic Conference before being upset in their conference tournament by East Carolina. Neighbors said his team played an NCAA Tournament-caliber opponent and that the Razorbacks’ slow start took them out of the game.

“They played one bad day in the last six weeks,” Neighbors said. “They had one bad day. They've been playing great and it was a tough draw for us….I think they're one of the hottest teams out there. They came out on fire, and they're so hard to guard. They play together, they execute, they really stress you out on defense and make you wrong. Then that carries over to your offense too.”

The Golden Hurricane took a 15-3 lead less than 5 minutes into the game helped in part by a cold start shooting for Arkansas. The Razorbacks missed 7 of their first 8 shots, with the only basket a three-pointer by Samara Spencer.

“We got a little sensitive in that first quarter when they started off so hot on offense,” Neighbors said. “It kind of slowed us down and took us a while to catch our breath.”

Tulsa kept its foot on the gas and held a 22-7 lead by the first quarter’s end. Temira Poindexter, who entered ranked 15th in Division I averaging 21.1 points per game, scored 10 of her team-high 21 points in the first quarter.

The Golden Hurricane opened the second quarter on a 12-2 run, highlighted by back-to-back three-pointers by Delanie Crawford and Poindexter, and grew its lead to 34-9. Tulsa took a 41-13 with 5:19 left in the half, its largest of the game, on a layup by Katia Gallegos.

“We certainly felt it from the beginning,” said Tulsa coach Angie Nelp of a loud announced crowd of 1,831. “They were a huge factor in the great start that we had. When we stepped on the floor, we knew that we want to throw the first punch….We want to be the aggressor.

“Being able to find that success early, being able to feed off of the crowd's energy, being able to have all of that packaged together, being able to shoot the ball really well and rebound the ball, that helped contribute to that great start.”

The Razorbacks shot 8 of 28 (28.6%), including 1 of 10 (10%) from three-point range, and trailed 45-22 at halftime.

Arkansas outscored the Golden Hurricane 23-18 in the third quarter, which was capped by a Karley Johnson three-pointer at the buzzer. The Razorbacks trailed 63-45 entering the fourth and each team scored 17 points over the final 10 minutes.

Razorbacks sophomore forward Maryam Dauda scored a game-high 22 points and 9 rebounds.

Neighbors said entering the offseason, he will look to add players from the NCAA transfer portal who can make shots, and that he wants to build around Dauda.

“We need some depth, and we need some shot makers,” Neighbors said. “I had some shooters, but we need some makers. We did not shoot the ball this year like we're capable of. It doesn't matter what you do in practice — our practice numbers looked good, but it never really translated.

“So we’ve got to find some kids that are willing to work at it and be makers. We’ve got to build around Maryam. I think she continued to show that she can be a dominant force in a lot of ways, so we’ve got to put pieces that fit with her. But we’ve got to have some makers out there on the wing for [Spencer] to dish it to.”

It marked the final game for Arkansas fifth-year guard Makayla Daniels, who ended her career with the program’s most games started and played (155), fifth-most points (1,859), ninth-most assists (400) and third-most steals (245).

“I don’t think I would rather be anywhere else,” Daniels said with tears. “I’m sad that it had to end like this. I’m just proud of those girls that are still in the locker room with me. It wasn’t the senior year that I wanted or pictured, but I’m really proud of the people in the locker room right now and I’m excited to see what they do.”

Neighbors said he will look to add players who want to play for the Razorbacks, such as Izzy Higginbottom, who signed with Arkansas earlier this week as a transfer from Arkansas State.

“I'm going to look for kids that want to be with us, that maybe aren't looking at NIL [deals] or things that are individual,” Neighbors said. “I'm going to want kids that want to be at Arkansas.

“We had a lot of really, really talented kids that never really fit together as a puzzle. I'll spend some time doing that: Making sure each kid fits with what we're doing and the kids we have around.”