HANOVER, NH – Senior Lauren Ervin hit the winning bucket with 13 seconds remaining as the 23rd-ranked Arkansas Lady Razorbacks defeated Marquette, 71-69, to capture the 32nd Blue Sky Classic title.
Arkansas, 14-0, saw its season-opening streak continue after rallying from an 11-point deficit to the Golden Eagles, also extending a 29-game win streak against unranked non-conference teams that dated back to December 2005.
“That’s the best win we’ve had this year,” UA head coach Tom Collen said. “I’ve got to give credit to the kids, they made the runs to get back in this game.”
Ervin scored 16 points with 16 rebounds, her eighth double-double of the year and was named the MVP of the tournament.
Battling back from an 11-point deficit, Arkansas pulled within two, 67-65, off a Charity Ford three-pointer with two minutes left to play. The teams traded buckets before a steal and layup by all-tournament selection Brittney Vaughn tied the game at 69-69 with 1:17 to play.
Ervin pulled away a lose ball on Marquette’s final possession, giving Arkansas the ball for the final possession of the game. Her power layup with seven seconds left gave the Lady’Backs their first in-season tournament title since 2002.
But at the start of the second half, it looked like Marquette would be the team with the intensity. A 16-2 run by the Golden Eagles that started in the final seconds of the first half and carried over into the beginning of the second proved the difference.
Svetlana Kovalenko led the second-half charge, scoring six of her 14 points during the run that took Marquette from down five in the first to up nine, 46-37.
The Lady’Backs slowed the MU pace midway through second half, but could only close to within four points, 54-50, off a pair of Vaughn free throws with 10:27 to play.
Breakaway layups by Angel Robinson and Krystal Ellis stopped the Arkansas rally, opening the way back to a double-digit lead, 63-52, with 8:21 left to play.
It was at that point Arkansas’ pace went up a notch, and a gritty comeback began.
“What made the difference was the press and the intensity,” Collen said. “Their intensity in the last eight to 10 minutes of the game, it’s great to know that intensity is there.”
Back-to-back layups from Vaughn brought Arkansas back again, 63-58, with 4:44 left.
For the game, Arkansas shot only 39.1% from the field.
Each team used small runs to take brief leads in the opening minutes of the contest. Vaughn and Charity Ford paced Arkansas early, combining in a 5-0 run to lead 15-11, only to watch Marquette respond with a 7-0 run to take back the lead, 18-15.
Arkansas worked to within a bucket when Brittney Richardson’s three-pointer tied the game at 20-20. The teams traded 6-0 runs as they worked their way to another 28-28 tie with 4:12 left in the first half.
Both defenses took over down the stretch until the final minute. A Ford three-pointer pushed Arkansas to a 35-30 lead at 1:01, but back-to-back buckets in the last 60 seconds by MU’s Harris and Lam cut the halftime lead to one, 35-34.
Arkansas shot the ball well in the opening half, 48%, and limited Marquette’s accuracy to only 38%. The Lady’Backs had ball handling troubles and allowed the Golden Eagles to outrebound Arkansas early.
Vaughn finished with 17 points, followed by 15 for Ford. Robinson had 15 for Marquette, followed by Kovalenko’s 14 and Janelle Harris with 10.
Arkansas returns home to face Texas Tech in the final non-conference game of they year on Saturday, Jan. 5, at 2 p.m. at Bud Walton Arena.