FAYETTEVILLE, Ark. (WTVA/Ole Miss Athletics) - Ole Miss women's basketball showed immense heart in erasing a 15-point deficit on the road, but the Rebels fell 73-72 to Arkansas in the SEC opener at Bud Walton Arena on Sunday.
Ole Miss (10-4, 0-1 SEC) had possession of the ball twice in the final 25 seconds of the game, but a floater by Alissa Alston bounced off the rim and a gutsy in-bounds pass strategy by Alston backfired, giving Arkansas (10-4, 1-0 SEC) the ball as time expired.
"Hats off to Arkansas, they played really well tonight," said Ole Miss head coach Matt Insell. "(Arkansas head coach) Mike (Neighbors) does a great job, his team was very prepared. I'm real proud of the way our kids battled through and kept playing and didn't get rattled. That's something we're working on in terms of road games. We've got rattled before and we did not get rattled."
One glance at the stat sheet would show a nearly mirror-image game by both the Rebels and Razorbacks, thus making momentum the key swing factor in today's outcome. Both squads traded punches in the first quarter, with the difference being four trifectas by the Razorbacks to take a 19-14 lead at the quarter break. Arkansas entered as the second-best three-point shooting team in the SEC at 8.2 per game (the Razorbacks went 8-of-21 today).
"They spread you out, they shoot a bunch of threes -- it's just an awkward style to play against," Insell said. "I thought we did a good job outside of the first quarter. They average 33 three attempts a game, and we held them to 21."
The Rebels fought back in the second quarter to an even 18-18 split, eventually taking their only lead of the game at the 4:33 mark at 30-29 on a Shelby Gibson layup. Gibson, who was coming off a career day vs. Texas Southern on Dec. 28 with 20 points, set a new high again with 21 points on 9-of-13 shooting.
Arkansas led at half, 37-32, and extended to their largest lead of the game at 15 points by the 1:42 mark of the third quarter.
Thus, it would be the fourth quarter where the Rebels made their last stand and erased the Razorback lead. Ole Miss opened the quarter with an 11-0 run, taking the entire quarter at a 22-11 advantage. That 11-0 run was fueled entirely by Madinah Muhammad (17 points) and Alissa Alston (18 points, seven assists, five rebounds), which eventually led to a Gibson jumper with 4:18 left to play that tied the game 67-67.
However, Gibson fouled out not long after with 3:22 left to play -- leading to a wild finale.
Three Razorback free throws made it a 70-67 game before a Promise Taylor (two points, three rebounds) layup cut it back to 70-69 at 1:44. A big three by Arkansas' Jailyn Mason (13 points) looked to seal the momentum for the Razorbacks at 73-69 with 1:17 to play, but a crucial three in response by Torri Lewis (three points) brought it back to the final score at 73-72.
The Rebel defense was able to hold the Arkansas offense to get the ball back without a shot clock with 25 seconds and counting, but Alston's aforementioned layup fell short. Cecilia Muhate (two points, three rebounds) and Bree Glover (seven rebounds) lunged for the loose ball, forcing a jump ball that went the direction of the Rebels. Alston handled the inbounds pass and attempted a gutsy pass off a Razorback player's back -- a feat she had accomplished successfully against Southern Miss this year -- but Arkansas was able to snare the ball and run out the clock to end the game.
Ole Miss now looks ahead to hosting the defending national champions, No. 4 South Carolina, on Jan. 4. This is the first time the defending national champions will come to Oxford since Jan. 31, 2008, when Tennessee came to town. Current Ole Miss assistant coach Alex Simmons was part of that Lady Vol team.