FAYETTEVILLE – A pair of teams with record performances on opening day clash at Bud Walton Arena as the Centenary Ladies face the University of Arkansas Lady Razorbacks at 2 p.m. Sunday afternoon.
Both teams took big wins on Friday evening. Centenary thrashed Division III LeTourneau, 96-66, behind a school-record 33-points from junior college transfer Laura Kizyte.
Arkansas used a punishing defense to defeat three-time defending Southwestern Athletic Conference champion Alabama State, 74-49, at Walton Arena. The Lady’Backs forced an opponent record 45 turnovers from the Lady Hornets, and came within two steals of the school record.
Head coach Susie Gardner was excited about her team’s win, which marked the 20th consecutive victory in the home opener for Arkansas.
“I was very pleased with the intensity we had, and we way our players came off the bench to keep that level of effort high,” Gardner said. “Our defense did a great job in limiting (Crystal) Kitt, and forcing turnovers. We hope that kind of effort continues to improve each game.”
Arkansas held ASU’s Crystal Kitt to only 13 points and seven rebounds, well below the returning SWAC player of the year’s junior averages of 20 ppg and 11 rpg. The Lady’Backs get another high-powered offensive challenge in Kizyte, but Gardner is cautious in her approach to the Ladies.
“You can’t focus too much on one player based on one-game stats,” Gardner said. “They may be looking at Danielle (Allen) and Sunday someone else steps up for us.”
Sophomore forward Danielle Allen made her first career start Friday, and turned in a career-shattering 20-point game on 9-of-11 from the field.
“Danielle played a fantastic game,” Gardner said. “She’s been working so hard in the off-season, and it really paid off for her against Alabama State.”
Centenary arrives at Arkansas with only nine active on an 11-player squad for rookie head coach Elizabeth Wamsley.
“Early season games are always hard to scout since there’s always new players, but it makes it a little harder when there’s a new coach,” Gardner said. “We’ve talked with some folks and we’ve watched some tape from last year.”
Kizyte hit 13-of-25 for her 33-point performance, and added 13 rebounds for Centenary. The Ladies had two double-double players as Van’esha Brabson scored 17 with 11 rebounds. Jelena Aleksic’s 13 points rounded out the double digit scoring against LeTourneau.
The Ladies shot 53.5% as a team with four of the five starters hitting over 50%. Holli Rushing and Whitney Rushing round out the starting five for Centenary.
Arkansas is expected to counter with the same starters as the Alabama State game, with Allen joined by Kristin Moore (7 ppg, 8 rpg) inside and Rochelle Vaughn (4 ppg), Sheree Thompson (6 ppg, 4 rpg) and Kristin Peoples (14 ppg) on the perimeter.
However, the main objective for Gardner is to keep her team moving forward in the face of a schedule that presents her with four games in the next eight days.
“This time of year is about teaching and improving, and I saw a lot of improvement in the Alabama State game,” she said. “Each day in practice, we’re taking steps forward.”
One player Arkansas may be without Sunday is senior guard Adrienne Bush, who hit the floor hard after a collision with ASU’s Kitt during the first half.
“She’s doubtful for Sunday, and we want to be careful and not risk any further injury,” Gardner said. “She was a little woozy today on the bike and showing some classic concussion symptoms.”
After the Centenary game, Gardner hosts her second coaches’ luncheon of the year on Monday, Nov. 22, at 11:45 a.m. at the Clarion Inn in Fayetteville, then prepares the team to depart on its first road trip of the season.
Arkansas spends Thanksgiving in Corpus Christi, Texas, for the Flint Hills Resources Islander Classic, Nov. 25-26. The Lady’Backs face their first ranked team, No. 16 Purdue, in the opening round on Thanksgiving evening at 6 p.m. Friday’s game is either Idaho State or the host Texas A&M-Corpus Christi Islanders.
The Lady’Backs have a quick turnaround after Corpus Christi, playing Western Kentucky on Sunday, Nov. 28.