Strong starts have been hard to come by for Missouri women’s basketball this season. Even though the Tigers managed to put one together Sunday at No. 21 Arkansas, they still could not turn the advantage into a second SEC victory of the year.
The 90-73 defeat at the Razorbacks’ Bud Walton Arena began ominously for Missouri. Amber Smith, the Tigers’ top scorer, racked up two personal fouls in the first 1:03 of action. But instead of fizzling out, the visitors held Arkansas scoreless for more than four minutes to start the game and led 10-3 midway through the first quarter.
Smith’s replacement off the bench, Hayley Frank, scored eight points and added a block as Missouri (4-13, 1-3) ended the opening frame up 22-14. It was for the fifth time this season that the Tigers led by five points or more after the opening frame.
Smith returned to the lineup to start the second quarter, only to be called for her third foul less than a minute later. She finished the first half with only two minutes played and no box score contributions outside the foul column.
It was only a matter of time before the SEC’s highest-scoring offense found its form. Lead by Chelsea Dungee, who poured in a season-high 38 points, the Razorbacks (13-3, 2-2) charged in front in the second quarter and never looked back, eventually surpassing their season average of 85.9 points per game.
Arkansas steadily stretched its lead in the second half, putting the Tigers behind by as much as 25 in the fourth quarter. Alexis Tolefree and Taylah Thomas scored 13 and 10 points, respectively, to complement Dungee’s leading performance.
Smith finally found her way in the second half, playing all but two minutes in the third and fourth quarters and scoring eight. But foul trouble continued to haunt the Tigers when Frank, who led the team with 19 points, committed her fifth infraction with 7:09 remaining in the game. Nadia Green, who scored two points in 23 minutes, also fouled out late.
Aijha Blackwell scored 18 points, but also accounted for seven of Missouri’s 18 turnovers. Arkansas converted the Tigers’ poor ball security into 19 points of its own.
As has been the case far too often this season, Missouri was unable to get Frank, Blackwell and Smith firing on all cylinders together for four quarters. Against Arkansas’ high-flying offense, that inconsistent production was too much to overcome.
The win was Arkansas’ first over the Tigers since 2016, ending a seven-game winning run for Missouri in the teams’ biannual matchup. The result could be seen as a microcosm for the programs’ opposite trajectories — Arkansas is enjoying its best season in years and is a solid bet to return to the NCAA Tournament, while Missouri has struggled to put its pieces together and is likely to miss the dance for the first time since 2015.
Next up, the Tigers face what could be their toughest test of the season when No. 4 South Carolina visits Columbia. Tipoff is set for 7:30 p.m. Thursday at Mizzou Arena.