LOS ANGELES – Senior Shameka Christon was named most valuable player of the Furama Thanksgiving Tournament but she would have traded the trophy for key baskets in the closing moments as the University of Arkansas fell to the host Loyola Marymount Lions, 64-58.
Arkansas (3-1) lost its first game of the year while LMU (3-1) extended its winning streak against non-conference teams at Gersten Pavilion which stretches back to 2001.
Sophomore Rochelle Vaughn and Christon were both all-tournament, but the heroics were for the Lions’ all-tournament picks Adrianne Slaughter and Raelen Self. Slaughter led LMU with 14 while Self had 12.
Christon and Ruby Vaden led Arkansas with 14 points, and Christon had 10 rebounds to pick up her third double-double of the year and the ninth of her career.
“I don’t ever remember a player from the losing team being named the MVP,” Christon said.
The Lady’Backs led by as many as 15 in the first half only to have the Lions make a slow motion comeback in the final five minutes of the game.
“LMU wanted it more than we did tonight and we didn’t have the emotion that we should have,” UA head coach Susie Gardner said. “I was not pleased with the mentality we displayed at the end of the game. They’re throwing the ball up in the air at the end like they’ve won the biggest game in their history and I’m looking down the bench at blank stares. If we’re going to get to the championship level, we’ve got to have more emotion.”
Senior Katrina Nesby agreed with her coach.
“They played with a lot of intensity at the end of the game and they played great,” Nesby said. “At the end, they wanted it more and made the big plays.”
Arkansas kept its distance from LMU most of the second half before a three-pointer from Amanda Patton and a layup from Mary Turner opened up a 8-0 run to tie the game at 47-47 with 13 minutes left.
The Lady’Backs made five straight turnovers during the LMU run as Arkansas was scoreless for just over five minutes.
“Our misses pumped them up at the end of the game,” Christon said. “It seemed when we took our outside shots, we didn’t do a good job and we only got one chance. When they shot, they made theirs.”
It appeared the LMU comeback ran into a wall at the 10 minute mark in the person of Nesby. The 6-4 senior who sprained her ankle in the first half hit the first of seven straight points at the 9:08 mark to match the Lions point-for-point over the next four minutes.
“At any given time any player on our team might be called on to score, and I just took advantage of the chances,” Nesby said. “It was hard with the ankle, but I had to fight through it because the team needed me.”
Arkansas was one player short with sophomore starter Sarah Pfeifer out indefinately with a dislocated shoulder suffered in the first round of the tournament against Oregon State.
Vaughn stepped up for Arkansas next points to get a four-point lead, 56-52, before a free throw and three-pointer by Jenni Smith tied the game at 58-58 with 3:15.
A pair of missed free throws by Ruby Vaden allowed Kate Murray to give LMU its first lead moments later on an open jumper, 58-56, with 3:15 left. A Vaughn layup tied the game at 1:35, and proved to be Arkansas’ last points of the game. The teams traded buckets before LMU turned the ball over with 50.2 to play.
Arkansas set up for Christon to take the shot, but the senior ‘s shot was blocked with 30 seconds left. Nesby immediately fouled Self, who hit the first shot before Arkansas’ final time out. She hit the second to ice the game, 62-58.
“We made stops last night (against Oregon State), but tonight we didn’t,” Gardner said. “We didn’t handle their press well at the start of the second half, and we shot poorly all night.”
For the game, Arkansas shot a season-low 32.4% and had 21 turnovers, 13 in the second half.
“We’re not doing the little things,” Gardner added.
The Lady’Backs opened up with a quick 10-point lead thanks to tenacious defense. An 8-0 run midway through the first half saw Arkansas hold LMU scoreless for 4:20 to extend their lead to 29-14. Murray hit a pair of jumpers to start a Lion rally that brought LMU within five, 29-22, before a five-point burst from Christon led Arkansas into the locker room with a 36-25 lead.
Arkansas forced 13 turnovers from the Lions in the first half, and disrupted the LMU offense for long periods of time. Loyola Marymount went over four minutes without field goals twice in the half, and shot only 38% for the half.
The Lady’Backs return to Fayetteville Sunday to prepare for their next road game at Western Kentucky on Dec. 3.