comscore script

Defense first for Arkansas’ 30th season

BY ANDRES FOCIL
Defense first for Arkansas’ 30th season

There aren’t a lot of coaches that convince a college basketball player that defense is fun. Even less that defense comes first. In a day dominated by the ESPN highlight, Susie Gardner isn’t as much of a throw back as a fast forward. “We’re small and to counter that, we’ve got to keep other teams from getting set,” Gardner said. “We press so the opponent doesn’t have time to run a set offense. We run so we can execute before they can set their defense. I’m giving away the game plan, but it’s pretty obvious.” In her own self-effacing manner, Gardner is also overlooking the most important part – her own job in teaching the small details of successful pressure defense and motivating the team to adopt the philosophy as their own. At the start of the last season, Arkansas used that Defense First approach to lead the nation in steals, shatter school defensive records and put not one, but two, players in the NCAA top 50 for steals per game. It was an impressive display of fast-break defense that drove the Lady’Backs to a 9-1 start, ripping the first five opponents for an average of just under 40 turnovers a game. Injuries both thinned the ranks and took out key personnel, but even with a toned down version in SEC play, the 2004-05 team crushed the school record for steals in a season with 388. It was one of those records from the no-schedule limit days of the AIAW that were thought untouchable in the 27-game era. “Every player on our team can run this year,” Gardner said. “And we’ve got a lot of players that are interchangeable. “Whitney (Jones) and Sarah (Pfeifer) can dribble the ball out and start a break,” she added. “They don’t have to look for an outlet, they just go.” Expect to see more substitution and less total minutes on the court for all the Lady’Backs as Gardner seeks to keep fresh feet on the floor at all times. “For example, we’ve got two solid point guards in Brittney (Vaughn) and Peeps (Kristin Peoples) that have my full confidence to run the offense,” Gardner said. “They could split the time 20-20, or they could play together.” Arkansas returns the front of the press as senior post player Kristin Moore is back from her knee surgery. “She got the press started, and when we lost her we had to change things,” Gardner said. “She’s ready, but I also think we’ve got some new players that can back her up this season in that role.”



Sports Category : Basketball (W)