Arkansas women’s basketball coach Mike Neighbors described the game No. 1 South Carolina as “demoralizing”.
“You think you’re in it,” Neighbors said. “You’re playing well. You look up and you’re down 12.”
That’s exactly what happened to Arkansas in their 76-54 loss to South Carolina in the third round of the SEC Tournament in Nashville on Friday. After watching Game 4 of 17 from the field, eighth-seeded Arkansas (18-13) improved in the second quarter and held off the top-seeded Gamecocks (28-1) scoreless for about three minutes.
Still, the Razorbacks have only ever come within nine in this quarter.
“It has a cumulative effect that wears you down,” Neighbors said. “It gets frustrating for me, and I know it gets frustrating for the kids because it’s so hard to function. You think you’re open, and then they’re there.”
Arkansas will now wait to learn the fate of its NCAA tournament. ESPN projects the Razorbacks as a 10-seeded player playing Ames, Iowa, in its latest bracketology. The selection show is in March (7 p.m. CT, ESPN).
South Carolina’s defense was all over the place, holding the league leader 3-for-5 for 31.
A big part of that was Brea Beal’s work on guarding Arkansas Amber Ramirez. Ramirez is averaging 42% from 3-point range and was 3-3 against Missouri on Thursday. Against Beal and the Gamecocks, however, she was 0 for 2 with eight points. Beal tends to keep his opponents’ top scorers.
“For me, it’s just knowing the staff,” Beal said. “You really have to understand who you’re guarding. You can’t just play guard shooter the same way you’re going to guard a driver. You really have to know the difference and really lock in that aspect.”
Beal knew Ramirez from the regular season game. Ramirez scored 14 goals in the loss, including 2-for-3 shooting from distance.
Arkansas’ first game against the Gamecocks was much tighter: 61-52. But that was mid-January, and it’s early March. South Carolina entered the thin air led by SEC Player of the Year and Defensive Player of the Year Aliyah Boston.
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Boston’s opener against Arkansas was its 11th consecutive double-double. The SEC Tournament victory was his 22nd. She had a career-high five steals on Friday, plus five assists, two blocks, 17 points and 14 rebounds.
“It’s great to have South Carolina in the SEC, other times it’s bad,” Neighbors said. “We like them representing and doing what they do, but that makes it really difficult when you have to face these guys a few times a year.”
Bouncing back was, for Neighbors, what made the difference. South Carolina scored 19 second-chance points on 20 offensive rebounds. Arkansas had a few moral wins by holding the Gamecocks 37 percent from the field and blocking 11 shots, but the offensive glass was where the game was won.
It was a physical game, and Neighbors pointed out that the Razorbacks played seven games in 15 days.
“It’s hard to do, so I’m not disappointed,” Neighbors said. “That’s why you’re shooting 5 for 31. That’s why we have trouble making layups. There’s nothing wrong with our kids.”