The No. 17 Arkansas women’s basketball team suffered two heartbreaking losses this week, when it faced No. 16 Oregon and South Florida on Tuesday and Wednesday during the San Diego Invitational.
“This has an NCAA Sweet 16-level tournament feel,” Arkansas head coach Mike Neighbors said. “Three really good teams in the field along with us, I think we belong in the field. Oregon is going to be a really low seed in the tournament.”
With sophomore Jersey Wolfenbarger out due to an illness, Neighbors was forced to play his starters up to 40 minutes per game in some cases. Fatigue appeared to have at least been a factor in the Hogs inability to close out two close games.
“They were out of gas because those are shots they normally hit,” Neighbors said. “We made a couple of uncharacteristic decisions. I think your mind leaves you when fatigue hits more so than your legs. They’re athletes and they fight through that, but you can’t control that brain.”
One positive for the Razorbacks was the performance of redshirt senior Erynn Barnum in consecutive games, scoring 22 and 21 against Oregon and South Florida, respectively.
It was just the continuation of what has been an incredible season that has flown under the radar. Barnum is averaging 15.8 points per game on a staggering 64% shooting. Regardless of the matchup, she has been a constant anchor in the paint for this Hog squad.
The key for Oregon in the Razorback loss was its defense. The Ducks were able to hold the Hogs to just 14 free throw attempts, a significant drop off from their 27-attempt season average.
“That’s a factor of their zone defense as well,” Neighbors said. “Obviously, this becomes the blueprint. Ohio State and South Florida are out there watching, I already know what could come. This is the blueprint of how you keep them off the foul line. We only got 10 points from the foul line tonight, It’s not uncommon for us to get nearly that from one person.”
In addition to their poor shooting, foul trouble became a major issue for Arkansas. Freshmen Maryam Dauda and Saylor Poffenbarger, junior Rylee Langerman and Barnum each had at least two fouls during the first half. Dauda notched her third during the final minute of the second quarter, forcing Neighbors to call on sophomore Emrie Ellis to finish the half.
“They saw a matchup that they felt like they could go at early,” Neighbors said. “Got us in a little bit of foul trouble. I think they understood the importance that Saylor (Poffenbarger) has to our team and got her a couple of fouls there pretty quick. It didn’t allow her to play as many minutes in the first half as she usually does.”
After falling to Oregon, Arkansas played South Florida in a game in which many of the themes from the first game came up again: the Razorbacks shot poorly and failed to stop the other team's best players.
After giving up 26 points on 53% shooting to Oregon’s Grace VanSlooten, Arkansas allowed the Bulls’ Elena Tsineke and Dulcy Fankam Mendjiadeu to combine for 39 points on 61% shooting.
Despite being outplayed in almost every category, the Razorbacks found themselves up by three with less than a minute to play. Langerman fouled the South Florida shooter on a 3-pointer, and she knocked down all three free throws before giving the Hogs an opportunity to win it at the buzzer. Senior guard Chrissy Carr was unable to knock down the shot, so the game went to overtime, and Arkansas fell 66-65.
After experiencing their first two losses of the season, falling to 13-2, the No. 16 Hogs will get to enjoy Christmas before they begin Southeastern Conference play with No. 10 LSU at 6 p.m. Thursday in Bud Walton Arena. The game will be broadcast on ESPN2 and stream live on the ESPN app.
Welcome to the discussion.
Keep it Clean. Please avoid obscene, vulgar, lewd, racist or sexually-oriented language.
PLEASE TURN OFF YOUR CAPS LOCK.
Don't Threaten. Threats of harming another person will not be tolerated.
Be Truthful. Don't knowingly lie about anyone or anything.
Be Nice. No racism, sexism or any sort of -ism that is degrading to another person.
Be Proactive. Use the 'Report' link on each comment to let us know of abusive posts.
Share with Us. We'd love to hear eyewitness accounts, the history behind an article.