Lady'Backs Get Ready For 6-5 Kitt

FAYETTEVILLE -- Arkansas opens its 29th season of women's basketball tonight against Alabama State, a team that went 19-9 last season and tied for first place in the Southwestern Athletic Conference.

The Lady Razorbacks, 16-12 last season, lost both of their exhibition games and will have their hands full trying to stop 6-foot-5 Hornets center Crystal Kitt, who averaged 20.5 points and 11.5 rebounds last season.

Kitt was ejected in the first half of Alabama State's 67-40 exhibition win over Stillman College of Tuscaloosa, Ala., on Monday night after being called for a flagrant foul, but will be allowed to play in tonight's game at Bud Walton Arena.

"She accidentally pushed a girl, who came up wanting to fight," said Alabama State sports information director LaTonia Thirston.

Had Kitt's foul involved actual fighting, she would have had to sit out tonight.

Arkansas coach Susie Gardner said Kitt reminded her of former Florida center Vanessa Hayden.

Gardner had 6-3 UA center Ruby Vaden simulate Kitt in practice, but told Vaden, "You would need about 50 more pounds."

Against most opponents, Gardner would have started 6-foot sophomores Danielle Allen and Sarah Pfeifer inside tonight, "because they've earned it." But because of Kitt's size, Gardner will pair Allen with 6-1 junior Kristin Moore.

Pfeifer has been limited in practice recently by a sore right shoulder, but she had it taped and got through Wednesday's drills OK.

Gardner had also planned to start a three-guard alignment of Kristin Peoples, Sheree Thompson and Rochelle Vaughn, but may substitute April Seggebruch for Thompson because of this week's practice performances.

"We're going to start the ones who can run the plays correctly, hustle and not get tired," Gardner said.

Seggebruch has been doing extra shooting and bringing along teammates to do the same ever since the Lady'Backs shot 28.8 percent in losing 62-57 to Athletes in Action last week.

"That was not a requirement, but it was a strong suggestion," Gardner said. "Practices have been good this week. In the women's game, a 3-point shot is like a dunk in the men's game; it gets the fans going. I think shooting is contagious."

Alabama State has three capable perimeter shooters of its own in starting guards Latoya Johnson, Frantina Coleman and Shantae Robinson.

Johnson, a 5-6 point guard, was the SWAC Newcomer of the Year last season, while Kitt was the SWAC Player of the Year.

Moore knows about fellow Chicago native Robinson, a 5-5 freshman whom UA assistant Amber Shirey called "a little waterbug."

Gardner would like to press in order to wear down Kitt, but is concerned with the Hornets' quickness.

Alabama State will mix defenses but may slow the pace offensively in order to wait for Kitt to set up shop inside.

"Their perimeter players are not tall, so we'll pressure the passers to try to keep the ball away from Kitt," Gardner said. "You can't guard her one-on-one; we'll need help."

Vaden and Pfeifer could supply that help off the bench.

Both could end up as starters for an Arkansas team that will face the 19th toughest schedule in the country this season, including No. 1 Tennessee and No. 3 LSU (3-0 already) twice each.

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