FAYETTEVILLE, Ark. — Sophomore Lyndsay Harris dropped in 21 points but the University of Arkansas women’s basketball team couldn’t get the win over Florida in the Southeastern Conference opener Sunday in Bud Walton Arena.
Arkansas (8-6, 0-1) fell 53-59 to the Gators (8-6, 1-0 SEC) despite Harris’ efforts. She led all scorers. Sophomore C’eira Ricketts added 11 and freshman Sarah Watkins led the defensive effort with six boards.
“It’s a frustrating way to start SEC play,” Arkansas head coach Tom Collen said. “I thought we had really good energy in the shoot-around this morning and we were really excited before the game. We lacked a little confidence as the game went on. It felt like Florida was up by two but playing like they were up by 20.”
“We really did a lot to prepare for this game and we knew we had to play hard from the opening tip,” said Harris. “We had a lot of open looks that we normally knock down but they didn’t go today. We didn’t play like we needed to to win but we care too much to let it get us down for the rest of the year. We have to regroup for the next game.”
The fast-paced first half saw Arkansas use a 14-2 run to take an 18-10 lead and force a Gator timeout with a little more than eight minutes remaining in the period. The teams were stalled for nearly three minutes with the Gators up 10-8 before the Razorback run that gave Arkansas a lead they would hold until the 2:27 point when a pair of Florida free throws saw the lead change.
The half featured five tied scores and three lead changes. Harris led all scorers with 14 points but the Razorback bench was scoreless in the first half.
The Gators were up two, 27-29, at the break and the teams exchanged buckets as the second half began. A jumper in the paint from Watkins tied the contest at 33 at the 17:57 mark but a three-pointer from Florida handed the lead back to the Gators.
Arkansas next got a layup from senior Charity Ford and a pair of free throws from Ashley Daniels giving Arkansas a 37-36 lead. It was the final advantage for the Razorbacks.
A Gator layup from Trumae Lucas made it 37-38 Florida and Arkansas was never able to regain the lead.
Florida stretched the lead to as many as seven but the Razorbacks had a chance to rally with time running out.
Freshman Dominique Robinson got a great inlet pass from Harris and laid the ball up and in bringing Arkansas within three, 53-56, with 1:04 remaining in the game.
The Gators burned a timeout and made some substitutions. They came out of the break and took advantage of an Arkansas foul with just three seconds remaining on the shot clock. Florida hit both bonus shots for the five-point advantage but Arkansas still had nearly a minute remaining on the clock.
The Razorbacks fouled Florida and the Gators missed the front end of the1-and-1 giving Arkansas the ball back. Arkansas turned it over bringing it up the floor and couldn’t take advantage of the opportunity.
Arkansas had to foul and Florida’s Lonnika Thompson hit her first free throw sealing the win for the Gators.
The Razorbacks shot 32.3 percent for the game going 20-of-62 from the floor. Arkansas hit just two three pointers but was solid from the line with an 11-for-14 performance including opening the game 10-for-10 from the stripe.
The Razorbacks nearly matched Florida in rebounding, 38-40, but struggled with the bench scoring. Florida’s bench hit 19 points to Arkansas’ two.
“We had the game within our reach but couldn’t bring the level of confidence and energy up at the end,” Collen said. “We put ourselves in a hole. Winning the first SEC game would have been good momentum for us going into the LSU game.”
Arkansas continues SEC play hosting No. 11 LSU Thursday, Jan. 7, at 7 p.m. in Bud Walton Arena.