COLLEGE STATION, Texas -- The Arkansas Razorbacks knew they could play better defense than they showed in the first half of their NCAA tournament opener against Dayton on Saturday.
They made up for it at the end, holding the Flyers without a field goal for the last 12 minutes of a 72-55 victory.Quistelle Williams scored 15 points, Keira Peak and Lyndsay Harris added 14 apiece, and Arkansas rallied from an early double-digit deficit with a smothering defensive effort in the second half.C'eira Ricketts had 13 points and five assists for the sixth-seeded Razorbacks (24-8), who finished the game with a 20-2 run after trailing by as many as 14 in the first half."First half, we knew our defense was kind of slow, and that's not what we thrive on," Ricketts said. "So we told each other that we're going to come out (in the) second half and pressure them, and that's what we did."Andrea Hoover scored 16 and Justine Raterman added 14 for the No. 11-seeded Flyers (23-7), who withered under the Razorbacks' full-court pressure and missed their final 15 shot attempts."We kind of ran out of gas in the second half," Dayton coach Jim Jabir said.The Razorbacks, back in the tournament for the first time since 2003, will play the winner of Saturday's second game between third-seeded Texas A&M (22-10) and No. 14 seed Albany (23-9).Dayton, which led the Atlantic 10 in scoring (71 points per game), shot 24 percent from the field in the second half against the Razorbacks' 10th-ranked scoring defense."That's a really good offensive basketball team," Arkansas coach Tom Collen said. "We've had some efforts like that before, some stretches when we shut people down. They obviously missed some shots. But obviously as the game wore on, they fatigued a little bit."The Razorbacks were the ones having shooting problems at the start, missing 10 of their first 11 attempts. But they began attacking the basket to rally late in the first half."There was a point, early in the game, where they were being challenged," Collen said. "They found a way to respond. They dug deep down inside, they didn't lose confidence in themselves, and they battled back."Sarah Watkins, Arkansas' 6-foot-3 center, scored inside and converted a three-point play at the start of a 19-5 spurt. The speedy Peak drove for two layups during the run, and Ricketts' free throws in the final minute before the break tied the game at 35-35.The Flyers were stunned by how quickly the Razorbacks were able to come back."I think it was one of those games where we made a few mistakes and we just let them compile on themselves," senior center Casey Nance said. "They just kind of got magnified that way."Arkansas went straight to Watkins on the first play of the second half, and she muscled inside to give the Razorbacks their first lead. Harris followed with a 3-pointer, but then fell hard on her back trying to guard Nance. Harris returned to the game a few minutes later.Hoover hit a 3-pointer and Raterman sank a pair of jumpers to put Dayton back in front. Ricketts answered with a pull-up jumper, then turned a steal into a fast-break layup.Arkansas started controlling the boards and smothering Dayton with its defense to finally pull away. Another offensive rebound led to Williams' jumper from the baseline, and Harris' 3-pointer with 7:09 remaining put Arkansas up 63-53.When the Flyers' misses started piling up, they let it affect their defense."We didn't play with emotion or passion defensively in the second half, and that's uncharacteristic," Jabir said. "Regardless of what happens, whether the shots go or not, we have a certain mentality when we defend."Arkansas turned to its full-court pressure early in the game, but Dayton point guard Patrice Lalor handled it well for a while. Samantha Mackey's 3-pointer with 12:30 left in the first half put the Flyers up 18-7.Dayton's lead swelled to 30-16 as the Flyers continued to find cracks in Arkansas' defense.