Despite a stretch of seven-plus minutes without No. 18 Arkansas making a field goal in the fourth quarter, LSU still wasn’t able to make up enough ground to make it a game down the stretch.
And because of it, the NCAA women’s tournament hopes of the Tigers took a severe blow with one game remaining in the regular season.
Arkansas used its hot-shooting, primarily from the 3-point line, to build a 22-point lead in the third quarter that was enough to withstand a wobbly finish, sending LSU to its fourth straight defeat 74-64 in Southeastern Conference play Sunday at the Pete Maravich Assembly Center.
The Tigers (8-11, 6-7 in SEC) conclude the regular season at home Thursday at 6 p.m. against Mississippi State before the start of the SEC tournament on March 3 in Greenville, S.C.
“We’re in the SEC in a tough conference,” LSU point guard Khayla Pointer said. “We’re playing some really good teams. It’s hard to finish the season but we’re going to continue to fight every game. We want to keep playing. We play State on Thursday and try and go as far as we can in the SEC tournament and try and get into the NCAA tournament.”
Guards Destiny Slocum and Chelsea Dungee powered Arkansas’ offensive efforts against an LSU defense, which surrendered a season-high point total. The Tigers were also allowing 4.3 made 3-pointers per game, but surrendered six of eight 3-pointers to the Razorbacks in the first half.
The Tigers, which shot 36.4% (24 of 64) and dropped to eighth place in the SEC, fell to 2-8 this season when yielding 60 or more points.
Pointer led LSU with 24 points, including her team’s last 10 points of the game. Guard Jailyn Cherry scored 12 of her 16 points in the first half, but because of foul difficulty later in the third quarter, didn’t score a point in the last 19 minutes of the game.
The Tigers also lost one of their key offensive pieces at the 2:22 mark of the first quarter when top reserve Tiara Young suffered an ankle injury on a floater in the lane and didn’t return to the game after failing to score in two minutes of play.
“She’s a really good offensive threat for us,” LSU coach Nikki Fargas said. “She’s key for us. She’s one of our better offensive players and we hope to get her back.”
Slocum, who averaged 13.5 points, returned after missing her team’s road win Thursday against Ole Miss with a game-high 29 points on 11 of 15 shooting and a career-high five 3-pointers. Dungee scored 20 points on 5 of 12 shooting and was 2 of 4 from 3-point range.
The Hogs (17-7, 7-6) wound up shooting 49% (25 of 51) for the game.
“We did give them a lot of open threes,” said Cherry, who grabbed a team-high nine rebounds and took four charges on defense. “They’re a crafty team. They can get in the lane; they can pass it out and shoot the three. It’s kind of hard to guard them. I give them credit for being who they are and staying true to that three ball.”
LSU didn’t make its first 3-pointer until Sara Shematsi beat the third quarter buzzer to reduce Arkansas’ lead to 60-46, ending a span of six consecutive misses from behind the arc, and the Tigers finished 4-of-15 for 26.7%.
Shematsi and Ryann Payne each contributed 3-pointers over the first four minutes of the fourth quarter, drawing LSU to within 66-54, but the Tigers couldn’t get closer than eight points (72-64) on Pointer’s 3-pointer with 15 seconds left.
The Hogs, who made 3 of 9 shots in the final quarter and turned the ball over nine times, experienced a 7-minute-plus drought without a field goal until Slocum’s driving layup with 32 seconds remaining.
Arkansas made six 3-point shots to establish a double-digit late in the first quarter that resulted in a 43-29 halftime advantage.
The Hogs made their first three 3-pointers of the game from three different players, forcing Fargas to take a timeout less than three minutes into the game. They shot 61.5 in the first quarter and shot 59.3% (16 of 27) in the first half and took a 14-point lead (43-29) into the locker room at halftime.
“We came out and got punched in the mouth,” Pointer said. “We knew Arkansas could shoot the three, but we had a lot of defensive breakdowns in the beginning of the game. We made some adjustments in the second half to run them off the three-point line. We’ve just got to be better down the stretch and not get ourselves in a deep hole again.”
When Arkansas stretched LSU’s defense out on the perimeter the Hogs were able to create driving lanes for Dungee and Slocum who repeatedly got to the basket for easy layups and pushed the Hogs’ lead to 40-20 with 2:18 before halftime following an 11-2 run.
Slocum pushed her team’s lead to 43-22 with another 3-pointer with just under two minutes before halftime when LSU scored the last seven points of the quarter, including three free throws from Payne to trail by 14 at halftime.
“You definitely can’t come out the gates starting 10 down and then now you’re playing catchup and that’s what we did,” Fargas said.