Peoples Making The Grade

FAYETTEVILLE -- Last fall, Arkansas point guard Kristin Peoples made her first 'B' since the fourth grade.

"It was a disaster in my family," Peoples said. "I missed the last four classes of chemistry class because of basketball travel. I made the highest 'B' in the class, but it didn't roll over to an 'A.'"

As a condition for receiving a 2000 Jeep Cherokee on her 16th birthday, Peoples was told by her parents they would take the vehicle away if she did not make straight A's at Brookhaven High in Columbus, Ohio.

Peoples settled that by not only making all A's but also by becoming the valedictorian of her senior class with a 4.0-plus grade-point average.

"My parents are the most disciplinary of anybody," Peoples said. "They gave me a lot of chores, and they made sure I knew academics came before basketball."

Peoples has five older siblings in an athletic family -- her dad, two brothers, an aunt, an uncle and a sister-in-law played college sports. She wants to follow in the footsteps of her brother, Jason, a doctor at Ohio State Sports Medicine.

"I want to go to medical school after I get a master's in communications," Peoples said.

She was going to college a half-day her senior year of high school and arrived at Arkansas with 30 hours of college credit. She'll get her degree in biology in just two-and-a-half years at the UA.

"I study a lot," she said. "I have to balance my time, so I have a planner."

She saves a smidgen of time to play cards with teammates. She and Kristin Moore are unbeatable at spades, without cheating, they said.

Peoples' grade-point average at Arkansas is "only" 3.97, thanks to that 'B' in chemistry. But that was plenty good enough to earn her a place on the 2004 Southeastern Conference Academic Honor Roll, to go with her SEC All-Freshman Team award.

Peoples averaged 7.1 points a game for last season's 16-12 team, and has doubled that production this season (the Lady'Backs were 4-1 heading into Wednesday night's home game against Indiana).

So committed were Peoples' parents, Ray and Linda, to her college choice that they attended an Arkansas-Kentucky game at Lexington during her senior year of high school.

Peoples had narrowed her choices to Harvard, Virginia Tech and Arkansas.

"I liked the academics at Arkansas, I really liked the players and I liked (former UA coach) Gary Blair," Peoples said. "The coaches here made me feel part of the family. Coach Blair was a great guy and I knew he would take care of me for four years."

Then Blair left Arkansas for Texas A&M before Peoples' arrival.

"It was a shock to me," she said.

But because she had never played for Blair, the adjustment to new UA coach Susie Gardner "didn't take long."

"It did take awhile to get to know coach Gardner," Peoples said. "I think we're developing a relationship now.

"But in the beginning it was a little shaky."

As a point guard, Peoples often bore the brunt of Gardner's on-court corrections.

"I've always had screaming coaches, so I was used to that," Peoples said. "I don't ever take basketball into my personal life. Anyway, her screaming wasn't real screaming. She's nice about her screaming. It's different; she gets her point across."

Going into Wednesday night's game, Peoples led Arkansas with 70 points, 22 steals and a .455 shooting percentage from 3-point range.

Peoples was too modest to call the Lady'Backs her team, but both she and Gardner have said they want the ball in Peoples' hands down the stretch of close games.

Observers wondered before the season who would take that role which Shameka Christon often filled the last four seasons before dribbling off to the WNBA.

"We definitely got the Shameka question a lot," Peoples said. "She scored 20-plus points a game, and everyone wondered who would replace her scoring. We've proved everyone wrong. We have even scoring, I think.

"We do have enough talent, and with this new style of pressure defense we've shown that we can play with big teams."

The Lady'Backs have overcome poor shooting with tenacious defense several times this season and Peoples credits her thievery with watching the opposing point guards on tape.

"I watch how they dribble, and then I anticipate what the person is going to do," she said. "I try to make them do what I want, and not what they want to do."

The Lady Razorbacks' faster-paced, pressuring style became second nature quickly enough that after Idaho State slowed them for a half with a plodding 2-3 zone last week, Gardner heard UA guard Rochelle Vaughn say to her teammates at intermission, "Come on -- they're making us play their style."

Peoples responded with a team-high 15 points as Arkansas erased a 30-29 halftime deficit to win 69-59.

Peoples then matched her career high of 18 points as the Lady'Backs dug from a 28-13 hole to beat Western Kentucky 83-79.

"I hope other teams are having to spend more time preparing for our pressure style," Gardner said. "That's part of the reason we decided to do it."

Peoples just hopes a "hot spot" on her left foot doesn't cause her problems in Arkansas' frenetic style.

"It's a little sore after games," Peoples said. "I've diagnosed myself, since I'm going into sports medicine.

"I'll be fine."

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