Lady'Backs Tabbed Ninth In Poll

BIRMINGHAM, Ala. -- Susie Gardner's expression didn't change on Thursday when she saw that her Arkansas women's basketball team had been picked to tie Alabama for ninth place in the Southeastern Conference this season.

Ninth is also where the Lady Razorbacks finished in the league last season, when they went 16-12 overall and 5-9 in the SEC in Gardner's first season at the helm.

"The X factor is we don't know who signed with who, or the injuries," Gardner said. "I don't like preseason polls."

Injuries curtailed Arkansas' production last season, as power forward Sarah Pfeifer suffered a reinjured shoulder in the third game of the season and guard Sheree Thompson missed the whole season with a knee injury.

Those two players figure prominently in Arkansas' plans this season, but now junior center Ruby Vaden is out indefinitely with knee pain.

Vaden, a 6-foot-3 Second Team Preseason All-SEC selection who averaged 11.8 points and 6.5 rebounds in 20 games last season, is on the mend from minor knee surgery and has yet to practice full-speed with the Lady'Backs.

"It's in her hands," Gardner said. "It's up to her pain tolerance. She was cleared awhile ago."

Pfeifer, on the other hand, has typically thrown herself full-bore into every drill despite her past shoulder problems.

"At 5-foot-11, Sarah has been our most consistent low-post scorer," Gardner said. "She's playing the way she did at the first of last season before her injury."

Pfeifer is backed up at the 4 position by 6-foot sophomore Danielle Allen, who continues to please Gardner in practice.

"Danielle has made a 180-degree turn from her freshman season," Gardner said. "She's feeling more comfortable at the 4. She was probably miserable last season at the 3, but she wouldn't have played much behind Shameka Christon."

Gone are Christon's 21.8 points per game and inconsistent practice habits.

Unsure where those points will come from this season, Gardner has signed off on her players' stated desire for a more up-tempo style.

"We may have to alter it in SEC play," Gardner said. "But in preconference, with so many games without much time to prepare, this may be a better style for us."

Gardner said 6-1 junior center/forward Kristin Moore had improved greatly since this time a year ago. Depending on Vaden's situation, Moore may be called on a lot in the post in the early going.

Melissa Hobbs, a 6-foot transfer from Colorado who becomes eligible in mid-December, was excited about being able to participate in Thursday night's game.

"Hobbs has a different shooting style, but I think she could become a real fan favorite," Gardner said.

Guards Rochelle Vaughn, Kristin Peoples and Brittney Vaughn may hold the key to Arkansas' fast-paced style.

"You should see Brittney and Peoples go at it in practice," Gardner said. "They have upped the intensity in practice. And (sisters) Brittney and Ro have a sixth sense together. They know when to switch on defense, probably from playing together in high school."

Arkansas officially begins its season Nov. 19 against Alabama State at home.

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