BY DUDLEY E. DAWSON
Arkansas looked well on its way to a 14th straight win to open the women’s college basketball season, but an Oregon fourth-quarter put that dream to bed.
The 16th-ranked Ducks used a 30-19 final stanza to take a 85-78 win over the the No. 17 Razorbacks Tuesday afternoon at the San Diego Invitational.
Arkansas (13-1), playing without ill sophomore Jersey Wolfenbarger, led 66-59 on Makayla Daniels’ with 8:30 left in the game before Oregon (10-1) roared down the stretch.
“They were unbelievable in the fourth quarter,” Arkansas head coach Mike Neighbors said. “For us to give up 30 in a quarter, that’s just not like us. I think we got tired. Jersey’s absence is not an excuse, but it is a reason for sure. Hats off to them. They hit every big shot.”
The Ducks were 10-of-18 from the field in the fourth quarter and nailed 5 of their 9 shots behind the 3-point arc. The Razorbacks made just 4-of-17 shots from the floor down the stretch.
Neighbors put the blame on himself.
“We battled, but the fourth quarter will haunt me tonight,” Neighbors said. “Tonight I won’t sleep much because I will watch it. We were up eight, or six or seven with eight to play, and not be able to get them home. Poor job by me in resting them and being able to play extended minutes into the fourth quarter and get them home.
“But it was a great job by them. They have been in big games, they have won big games, they are a Final Four program. I am proud of our effort, but disappointed with the result.”
Arkansas forward Erynn Barnum had 17 of her team-high 22 points in the opening half, which closed with Oregon leading 38-37, and 7 of her 11 rebounds after intermission.
Samara Spencer nearly had a triple double for the Razorbacks with 20 points, 10 rebounds and 7 assists while Makayla Daniels added 15 points and Saylor Poffenbarger chipped in 5 points and 11 rebounds.
Grace VanSlooten had 26 points to lead Oregon and Endyia Rogers 20 for the Ducks, who had won their last two games by a combined 114 points.
“I promise you this had a NCAA Sweet 16 Tournament feel,” Neighbors said. “Three really good teams along with us and I think we belong in this field. Oregon is going to be a really low seed when it comes to the tournament, low in a good way, like a small number.”
Oregon moves on to play in Wednesday’s 5 p.m. CST championship game against No. 3 Ohio State (12-0), who rallied from 12 points down in the fourth quarter to beat South Florida 88-86 in overtime later Tuesday.
Arkansas will face South Florida (10-4) Wednesday at 3 p.m. CST with the game being televised on Flo Sports.
“We knew eventually a loss was coming along the way,” Neighbors said. “I really liked how our kids in the locker room responded. We’ll get better from it, but we can’t really dwell on it very long because another really good opponent tomorrow at 1 (PST).”
Neighbors is glad his team took on this challenge.
“Watching the scores on the way over here today, I literally had to google about six of the opponents some people had chosen to play and wondered ‘is that even a college?’ Instead we are playing Oregon and a potential top three team.
“Our kids in the locker room said ‘coach, we wouldn’t want it any other way. We don’t want to be that team that is whatever and whatever at Christmas and don’t really know who they are. This is good.’ And that response is something I don’t worry about.”