PowerMizzou - Mizzou's comeback falls short against No. 16 Arkansas
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Mizzou's comeback falls short against No. 16 Arkansas

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It’s usually been the case that whenever Missouri women’s basketball has played a Southeastern Conference team with a ranking next to its name this season, it plays with a fire under its feet.

But those valiant performances against staunch opposition haven’t resulted in wins. That trend didn’t change in the Tigers’ 85-80 loss to No. 16 Arkansas on Wednesday at Mizzou Arena.

Down by as much as 18 points with 3:28 left in the third quarter, Missouri fought back to take a 76-75 lead with 2:23 remaining — its first lead since the score was 2-0. But the Razorbacks went on a 10-4 run to close the game, with guard Destiny Slocum hitting a clutch 3-pointer with 35 seconds to go to make it a two-possession game for good.

The loss marked the fourth time this season that Missouri (6-7, 2-6 SEC) has played a ranked SEC team within two scores, including the second time it's happened against the Hogs; the Tigers narrowly lost 91-88 on Jan. 3 in Fayetteville. But as has been the case in numerous games this season, Missouri simply had too little, too late.

“I’m learning that we can play with anybody,” Tigers guard Aijha Blackwell said. “We can play with anybody in the country on any given night. We need to just find a way to figure out how to finish games. I just think that we’re right there, we just got to get over the hump.”

Robin Pingeton and Missouri dropped to 2-6 in SEC play with Thursday's loss to Arkansas.
Robin Pingeton and Missouri dropped to 2-6 in SEC play with Thursday's loss to Arkansas. (Jordan Kodner)

Arkansas (14-6, 4-5) was lights out from 3-point range, shooting 14-of-26 (54 percent) for the game, but Missouri kept pace thanks to dominating the rebounding battle 40-24 and recording 17 second-chance points off of 11 offensive boards. The Razorbacks were simply too dangerous when they had the ball in their hands, and the Tigers’ inability to force pressure — Arkansas only turned it over four times — gave the visitors plenty of opportunities to work with.

After Missouri scored the first basket, Arkansas teared off on a 13-0 run to put Missouri in an early double-digit hole. An immediate 9-0 run right back by the Tigers closed the gap, but the Hogs coasted to a 45-39 lead at halftime, led by Slocum’s 14 points and SEC leading scorer Chelsea Dungee’s 13.

Arkansas’ ability to shoot the deep ball wasn’t unexpected: It hit 12 triples in the first meeting against Missouri. But Tigers coach Robin Pingeton believed that her team’s emphasis on guarding the perimeter was outdone by the Hogs’ talent in the backcourt.

“Well, we tried to guard them,” Pingeton said. “We were prepared, we knew the shots they wanted to take. … You just got to give them credit. They do a great job of keeping you off-balance, and on several of those kids, they can score on all three levels. You got to take away the three, but you got to be able to guard your yard.”

The Razorbacks went on a 14-2 run to start the second half, but Missouri’s Lauren Hansen, who scored 12 of her team-high 19 points after halftime, was a catalyst for the Tigers’ late push for the lead. Dungee (27 points) and Slocum (22) were too much to handle, however, with Arkansas’ two top-5 wins (against Baylor and UConn) on its schedule coming in handy for it staying power late.

Missouri’s scoring was widespread, an encouraging sign as the Tigers finished with 42 points off of the bench. Six Tiger players finishing in double figures: Hansen, Blackwell (13 points), Hayley Frank (12), Shannon Dufficy (12), Shug Dickson (11) and Ladazhia Williams (10).

Blackwell also notched her fifth straight double-double by tacking on 12 rebounds. That production was something Pingeton found encouraging, but she wished that it came at more consistent times.

“I told our girls in the locker room, ‘No one’s going to feel sorry for us,’” Pingeton said. “We’ve got a great opportunity this month in February, but it’s not going to be easy. So we’ve just got to continue to stay the course and in one of these times, it’s going to pay off for us.”

The Tigers play next against Auburn at noon Sunday on the road.