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It’s all about the number three in Arkansas’ 30 season

BY ANDRES FOCIL
It’s all about the number three in Arkansas’ 30 season

The number three is very important for University of Arkansas women’s basketball head coach Susie Gardner and her Lady Razorbacks. Gardner starts her third season at Arkansas this fall as the program celebrates its 30th season of varsity women’s basketball in Fayetteville. Returning the top three scorers at the start of the season, Gardner has three true newcomers to add to the mix of 10 returning letterwinners as the team lost three players from last season’s 17-14 team. And, Arkansas has a pair of new shooters to give the team more three-point threats. It all adds up to a chance for the 13th straight winning season for the program. At the top of the list of returning starters is the Southeastern Conference’s Scholar-Athlete of the Year, junior Sarah Pfeifer, who is, of course, number 33. The industrial engineering major was Arkansas’ leading scorer last season with 12.4 ppg and 4.7 rpg. Generously listed at 6-0 on the roster, Pfeifer battled not only the larger post players of the SEC last year, but also her own shoulder injuries. Off-season surgery has the Ozark, Ark., post healthy on both shoulders for the first time since arriving in Fayetteville. “Sarah became our go-to last year, and I’m so proud of her making Scholar-Athlete of the Year,” Gardner said. “She was way undersized in the post, but she is tenacious.” Right behind Pfeifer in scoring last season were guards Rochelle Vaughn and Kristin Peoples. Vaughn is a senior on the court, but a graduate student this fall in the classroom. Leading the team in steals with 63 and second in scoring (9.5 ppg) and assists (2.9 apg), Vaughn is believed to be one of the first graduate students to play women’s basketball for Arkansas. “It’s a unique situation, I’ve never had a player finish in three years,” Gardner said. “With more depth this year, I think this could be a year that Ro actually plays fewer minutes, but because we’re not asking her to stay out there as long, she can make them more productive, quality minutes.” It might not be long for another graduate starter as Peoples made the ESPN The Magazine Academic All-America ballot last year as an academic junior and athletic sophomore. The first-team academic all-district guard led Arkansas in assists with 3.1 per game, was second in steals with 55 and third in scoring at 9.2 ppg. “Kristin has worked hard this summer to add new strengths to her offensive game,” Gardner said. “She has that ‘coach on the floor’ mentality and she is one of our best at harassing the ball.” Arkansas’ season was marred by virtual back-to-back torn ACLs at the starting low post position. One of those two players returns for her senior season, 6-0 post Kristin Moore (6.3 ppg). The starter at post the first 12 games of the season, she was the team’s leading rebounder until her injury. Moore’s first replacement at low post, Ruby Vaden, tore her ACL less than three weeks later, and is seeking a medical redshirt. “I’m so proud of how hard Kristin has worked to come back, and I’m anticipating her to return as the player she was before Jan. 2,” Gardner said. “We missed her rebounding and presence in the lane.” Another post player, Danielle Allen, is out for the fall semester on medical redshirt, but if she can return in the spring would provide Arkansas with its fourth leading scorer (9.0 ppg) and top rebounder after Moore’s injury (5.4 rpg) back in the lineup. “We hope she joins us in December,” Gardner said. “We’ve totally supported her, and I think her experience has made her hungry to return to basketball.” Gardner returns two more players with starting experience at the guards in senior Sheree Thompson (5.7 ppg, 2.7 rpg) and senior/graduate student Adrienne Bush (4.0 ppg, 2.6 rpg). “I believe we’ll see the real Sheree Thompson this year,” Gardner said. “She has worked hard this past summer to regain the speed she had before her injury two years ago. Adrienne has always prided herself on her role in the defense, but we hope she can be more of a part of our set offense this year.” For the newcomers, Arkansas picks up a pair of freshmen, Blytheville’s Whitney Jones and Angleton, Texas’, Ayana Brereton, along with a junior college signee Dominique Washington. “Whitney and Ayana are a pair of players that are made for our system,” Gardner said. “Whitney has been winning most of the sprints in preseason, and Ayana’s long arms and speed are two of her best strengths.” Jones is a 6-0 post player who can provide immediate depth alongside Moore, Pfeifer and returning letterwinner Kristina Andjelkovic, while Brereton’s athletic ability helps Arkansas on the wing with Thompson and Bush. “Kristina is one of those unassuming players on the floor who does all the little things that don’t show up on the box score,” Gardner said. Washington’s three-point shooting gives Gardner a trio of players who are particularly strong behind the arc. The Pensacola, Fla., native joins returning letterwinner Melissa Hobbs (2.7 ppg) and midterm transfer Leslie Howard from Salem, Mo., as shooting guards. “They give us new offensive weapons,” Gardner said. “Dominique isn’t just a three-point shooter. She can put the ball on the floor and drive. Her size also helps our perimeter defense. “Leslie is a pure shooter, and she’s coming into this season in the best shape of her life. The longer the game goes the stronger she gets.” Arkansas’ depth remains on the perimeter as sophomore Brittney Vaughn (3.7 ppg) returns along with sister Rochelle, Peoples and Thompson as the ball-handling guards.“Brittney is a completely different person,” Gardner said. “She has matured, and she gives us another look at the point guard.”



Sports Category : Basketball (W)