Missouri women’s basketball exhibits plenty of reasons to be excited despite narrow loss to No. 10 Arkansas

The Tigers displayed both their inexperience and potential in a 91-88 loss to the Razorbacks.

There were a few times on Sunday afternoon when it felt as if it wasn't Missouri’s day.

After they went up 8-0 early in the first quarter, the Tigers allowed Arkansas to go on a 14-5 run and take control of the game. Razorbacks guard Amber Ramirez swished an off-balance 3-pointer at the first-half buzzer. When Missouri brought its deficit to three points early in the fourth quarter, Arkansas hit back-to-back triples to stretch the lead back to nine.

Ultimately, the Tigers dug themselves too big a hole to come back from against the No. 10 team in the country on the road.

“We had too many bad possessions,” Missouri coach Robin Pingeton said. “If you want to have a chance against a team like this, you can’t afford to have a mishap.”

The Tigers played like two different teams against the Razorbacks. Their first-half performance showcased both inexperience and youth. Missouri looked like a team playing its seventh game and first on the road, which stood out against an Arkansas team playing its 12th game.

When they built their early lead, the Tigers played through forward LaDazhia Williams in the post. She scored six of the Tigers’ first eight points and finished the first quarter perfect from the field.

“We had no answer for Williams,” Arkansas coach Mike Neighbors said.

So the Razorbacks targeted her on offense each possession, trying to get the six-foot-four forward into foul trouble, which they did. With Williams out of the game, the Tigers attempted to push the tempo, but couldn’t match Arkansas’ firepower.

Neighbors’ team outscored Missouri by 10 points in the second quarter as it looked to take advantage of the visitors’ sloppy mistakes. The Tigers turned the ball over 12 times in the first half, and the Razorbacks made them pay in transition with 12 made threes.

“We had some really good looks that didn’t drop for us,” Pingeton said. “I felt we had some good looks around the basket, good looks from the 3-point line and that was the message at halftime.”

For as sloppy as Missouri looked in the first half, the Tigers flashed their potential in a high-scoring second half.

Pingeton’s team started to attack the basket and found open shooters either behind the arc or in the paint. When the Tigers attacked in transition, they were much more under control. Most importantly, they hit 66.7% of their shots, compared to just 38.7% in the first half.

“I did like the smaller ball that we went with in the second half,” Pingeton said. “I thought our ability to spread the court a little bit and surround some of our drivers with shooters worked well. We got a lot of kids who have the ability to shoot the three, and I saw some good things from it.”

Missouri’s small-ball lineups start with its two tall sophomore guards that can just as easily dominate smaller players down low. Six-foot sophomore Aijha Blackwell finished with a 20-point double-double while six-foot-one sophomore Hayley Frank had 14 points and five assists. They both made their presence felt against a tournament-ready Arkansas team.

Credit to Missouri for never hanging its head or allowing the game to get too far away from it. When Arkansas pushed its advantage back to nine points late in the game, the Tigers came back and matched a dynamic Razorbacks team shot-for-shot in a 54-point fourth quarter.

Missouri is a younger team with less experience than battle-tested Arkansas. It may not have left Fayetteville, Ark., with a win. But on Sunday afternoon, the Tigers found out what it takes to hang in a game with a talented team –– which they will come across plenty of in the talented SEC –– and showed glimpses of their potential at Bud Walton Arena.

“They hung 54 on us [in the second half], but we knew that was coming,” Neighbors said. “This is an explosive team. I said it pregame to anybody who would listen to me. Hopefully now, everybody sees it first hand.”

Edited by Jack Soble | jsoble@themaneater.com

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