FAYETTEVILLE, Ark. – Sarah Watkins helped Arkansas do its best to knock Kentucky out early Thursday night.
In the end, the Razorbacks (15-8, 3-7 Southeastern Conference) were left stinging once again after a close defeat — this one an 80-74 setback in overtime to the No. 10 Wildcats.
Watkins had 25 points, while Quistelle Williams added 18 and Dominique Wilson 17 for Arkansas, which fell to 1-5 against ranked teams this season. Five of their losses have been by four points or less, and Thursday night's was particularly tough after leading by as many as 11 in the first half.
The Razorbacks lone win over a ranked team is a 64-56 win over then-No. 17 Kansas on Dec. 6.
"My kids, they're a little beat down," Arkansas coach Tom Collen said. "I was really proud of them, the way they came out and played tonight because they had every right to think 'Our backs are against the wall, there's nothing we can do, we're playing the best team in the league.'
"They showed up and they played hard."
Kentucky entered Thursday recovering from a disappointing loss of its own, a setback to Georgia on Sunday that snapped a school-record 34-game home winning streak.
Wildcats coach Matthew Mitchell wasn't sure his team was fully recovered from that loss in the first half against the Razorbacks.
Luckily for Mitchell, Bria Goss and A'dia Mathies saved their best for the second half.
Goss scored 16 of her 17 points after halftime for the Wildcats (20-3, 8-2), who avoided losing for the third time in four games.
Kentucky was outscored 16-4 in the closing minutes of the 75-71 loss to Georgia, a trend that continued as it fell behind by as many as 11 points in the first half to the Razorbacks.
"We were just so out of sync," Mitchell said. "We have a couple of players hanging their head right now, and we just couldn't get anything going.
"To fight back ... and just to persevere, I think this is a very significant win for us."
Samarie Walker added 16 points for the Wildcats, while Mathies had 15 and DeNesha Stallworth 12.
Arkansas had the last shot with the game tied at 64-64 in regulation, but Calli Berna's layup attempt on the baseline was blocked by Kentucky's Brittany Henderson. The Wildcats had tied the game at with 25.6 seconds remaining on a drive by Mathies.
"We just couldn't make a play at the end to put them away," Collen said. "... It's a tough loss. We've got to find a way to get back up."
Goss scored seven points in overtime, including a pair of free throws that put Kentucky up 73-66. Mathies, who finished 6 of 17 from the field and struggled for much of the game, then hit a jumper to put the Wildcats up 75-68 and put the game out of reach.
"I just thought (Matheis) did a great job directing the offense," Mitchell said. "And then she stepped up and made some big-time shots. You see her percentage was not very good tonight, and a lot of times players will lose confidence and stop shooting, but she made some huge plays."
Kentucky trailed by as many as 11 points in the first half before regaining control behind Walker. The forward scored the first seven points of the second half for the Wildcats, helping them tie the game at 35-35 — the first time they hadn't trailed since the opening minutes.
Stallworth finally put Kentucky back ahead 44-42 with a pair of free throws, but Williams answered with a 3-pointer to put Arkansas back ahead 45-44. The Razorbacks pushed their lead to as many as eight points after that, taking a 56-48 lead following a 3-pointer by Watkins, before the Wildcats rallied to take a 62-61 lead in the closing minute after a jumper by Mathies.
Williams put Arkansas back ahead 64-62 with a three-point play before Mathies answered again — this time with a drive with 25.6 seconds remaining to tie the game and send it into overtime.
Arkansas controlled the action for much of the first half against a Kentucky team that entered the game leading the SEC in turnover margin. The Wildcats committed 10 turnovers in the first half while forcing only 9 by the Razorbacks, and they fell behind by as many as 11 points before closing to within 33-28 at halftime.
"They battled back from what we handed them in the first half," Watkins said. "You've got to give them credit for being gritty and handling the pressure and coming back."
Arkansas took its largest lead of the first half at 30-19 following a basket by Jhasmin Bowen, whose jumper made the Razorbacks 12 of 24 (50 percent) from the field.
Watkins had 11 points in 10 minutes off the bench in the half for Arkansas, which has now lost to five ranked teams this season. Berna had a game-high 11 assists.