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Season Preview: One Team One Goal for Lady’Back basketball

BY ANDRES FOCIL
Season Preview:  One Team One Goal for Lady’Back basketball

The Arkansas Lady Razorbacks begin their second season with head coach Susie Gardner. Returning a team that is a dichotomy of youth and experience, Gardner makes her second step toward building the program to suit her core philosophy: Every Play, Every Day. To intellectualize it, one could say Arkansas plays existential basketball: living in the moment, striving to achieve the best outcome on this drill, this play, this one game. Toward that end, the Lady’Backs begin the 2004-05 season looking at each practice, each game with a similar zen-like approach: One Team, One Goal. That focus paid dividends in the first season under Gardner as the Lady’Backs threw off the distractions of preseason injuries and one of the most brutal schedules in the 28-year history of the program to produce a 16-12 winning season and the Southeastern Conference Player of the Year. Returning four players with significant starting experience plus two more potential starters back from season-ending injuries, the nucleus exists for success against another tough schedule. At the same time, the team became younger after the loss of three seniors from last year. Arkansas heads into the 2005 SEC season with one of its most unique senior classes as the combined court experience at Arkansas of the three is less than two full seasons. While the 14-player roster is talented and deep, Arkansas has a major challenge as all three members of the Class of 2004 were post players. This was not unlike Gardner’s inaugural season at Arkansas which began with the departure of the entire starting backcourt. As the coaching staff works to level out the roster peaks and valleys through balancing the future recruiting classes, Gardner turns to her core philosophy of focusing on what needs to be done at this moment, adding to it the admonition of no excuses. “To a person, this team wants two things,” Gardner said. “They want to be considered as a team, not individuals. The team concept something we’re putting on them as a coaching staff. It’s what they want.” With the departure of the SEC Player of the Year and WNBA Rookie Team member Shameka Christon, the 2004-05 Lady Razorbacks seem to understand unity is not just a cute “Successories”-type goal, but a real necessity. “When you lose a player that you’ve looked to for 21 or 22 points a night, it doesn’t take the team long to figure out that there’s a whole lot of scoring that they have got to share,” Gardner said. “It’s a true sense of the word team – a focus on winning and goals together – but it goes deeper,” she continued. “They are learning more about how to care about each other, and that its more than getting together for two hours a day at practice and then at the game.” And then, there’s that other thing the team wants. “They want to run,” Gardner said. Considering the size on the roster – both numbers and height — and the loss of three post players, speed and defense might be Arkansas’ weapons. “It takes a lot of players to run and it takes a team concept to run,” Gardner added. “You have to be willing to pay the price to press, and that starts with strength and conditioning before the season begins. This might be the year we start on day one with defense, and truly have our defense creating our offense.” A team so reliant on its juniors and sophomores could have problems, but Gardner is fortunate to have some of the most experienced underclassmen in the league. Juniors Rochelle Vaughn (8.9 ppg, 4.3 rpg), Kristin Moore (7.2 ppg ,6.6 rpg) and Ruby Vaden (11.8 ppg 6.5 rpg) are joined by sophomore Kristin Peoples (7.1 ppg, 3.0 apg) as returning starters. Vaughn led Arkansas in minutes played as one of two players to start every game last year. The 5-8 junior also led the Lady’Backs in steals (57) and assists (156), and was the top rebounding guard. Vaden was on course to become a force in the SEC, hitting stride in late January before an injury sidelined her for the final seven games of the regular season. Moore was one of the great sophomore season turnaround stories in recent Lady’Back history. The 6-1 East Chicago, Ind., post blossomed from a 1.1 ppg role player into a double-double late season starter. Peoples also came on strong at the end of the season to earn SEC All-Freshman honors. Seniors Adrienne Bush (2.9 ppg) and April Seggebruch (5.1 ppg) and sophomore Danielle Allen (1.1 ppg, 1.9 rpg) round out the returnees for Arkansas. Seggebruch played every game last year and tied for second on the team in three-point production. Allen saw action in all but one game as she made the transition to the college game. A semester transfer, Bush became eligible at midseason and made her mark as an aggressive defender. The return of Sheree Thompson and Sarah Pfeifer from season-ending injuries gives Gardner two more potential starters. A junior college transfer last season, Thompson’s first attempt at a junior season ended in the opening week of practice with a knee injury. Pfeifer’s year was all of two and a half games before a shoulder injury took her from the starting lineup. The Lady’Backs add five newcomers to the team this fall, led by junior transfer Melissa Hobbs. The former Oklahoma prep standout came to Arkansas at mid-season last year after playing at Colorado. Eligible at semester, the 6-0 Hobbs gives the Lady’Backs a big shooting guard in the style of mid-90s three-point gunner Kimberly Wilson. Another scoring guard, freshman Brittney Vaughn, also adds a great story to the University. Not only does she join older sister Rochelle on the Lady’Back roster, it is a Vaughn family reunion in Fayetteville with brother Vickel a starting defensive back for the Razorback football team. Junior college transfer post Kristina Andjelkovic, walk-on senior Allison Singleton and two-sport freshman Christina Lawrence round out the newcomers. Andjelkovic’s 6-2 frame is a major asset for Arkansas inside, but as the first Eastern European player for the Lady’Backs she also brings the typical shooting touch associated with the international game. Lawrence missed most of her senior year of high school with a knee injury, but enrolled at Arkansas early to work out with the volleyball team. Gardner is enthusiastic and realistic about the upcoming season. “We’re building something strong, building something solid, and that doesn’t happen overnight,” Gardner said. “At the same time, you don’t put the roof on first when you start to build. The team concept takes time, but in the end we have a greater overall program.” One team. One goal. INSERT SIDEBAR Home Sweet Home for Lady’Backs, Fans First-ever home games with Indiana and Oregon, a tournament date with Purdue and a high-profile appearance at the Russell Athletics Shootout highlight the 2004-05 Lady Razorback basketball schedule. “I’m very excited about this schedule, particularly the home schedule,” head coach Susie Gardner said. “Obviously, we have a lot more home games, but more important is the fact we’re playing some of the top teams in the country at home.” Arkansas hosts 16 home dates including preseason games for the 2004-05 season, up from only 11 regular season games last season, with several high-profile names to join the Southeastern Conference regulars Tennessee, LSU and Ole Miss. The Lady Razorbacks host Indiana on Dec. 1 and Oregon on Dec. 21 at Bud Walton Arena along with women’s basketball powerhouse Western Kentucky on Nov. 28. “We’re playing some of the top teams from conferences from across the country, and I think it’s very important for our players to experience different types of play,” Gardner said. “The styles of play are very different in say the Pac 10 compared to the Big 10.” Reserved season tickets are $90, with senior citizens and youth tickets available for $80. New for this season is special family pricing in the Lil’Backs section on the west baseline. The Lil’Backs Club is open to kids K through 8th grade, and costs $25 for the first child in a family and only $10 for each additional sibling. Family members can buy $45 season tickets to sit with their Lil’Backs in Sections 109 and 110. Ticket renewals are in the mail, and sales to the general public begin in October. For more information or to purchase tickets on-line, press the Tickets button at LADYBACKS.COM.



Sports Category : Basketball (W)