Lady'Backs Begin SEC Play On The Road

ATHENS, Ga. -- Arkansas women's basketball coach Susie Gardner takes a 2-0 record against her former college coach, Andy Landers of Georgia, into tonight's Southeastern Conference opener against the No. 16 Lady Bulldogs.

But as far as Gardner is concerned, that's old news.

"Now it's not even a big deal to me," Gardner said. "And Coach Landers has coached against so many of his former players and coaches that it's not a big deal to him."

Gardner admitted, however, that when her Austin Peay team upset Georgia in December, 1997, it was a "huge deal."

"I was basically taking my team to Athens on a field trip," Gardner said. "We ended up pulling out a (71-66) miracle."

Gardner's first UA team, while finishing only 5-9 in the SEC last season, managed to also beat Georgia, 71-63, in Fayetteville.

But this year's Georgia team (9-3) began the season ranked as high as third in some surveys, and currently rides a four-game winning streak.

Landers, 701-214 all-time as a college coach, can call on perhaps the deepest backcourt in women's basketball and one of the top freshmen, 6-foot-3 center Tasha Humphrey.

Arkansas, 9-1 and on a seven-game winning streak of its own, relies on a pressure defense that will meet the acid test tonight against Georgia guards Cori Chambers (14 points per game), Sherrill Baker (11.2) and Alexis Kendrick.

Janese Hardrick, an All-SEC Frehman Team guard last season, can't even crack the current Lady Bulldogs starting lineup. Neither can 6-3 freshman forward Megan Darrah, who plays the wing like a guard.

"Last year, (UA point guard) Kristin Peoples could barely get the ball past halfcourt against Georgia, and hardly played," Gardner said.

This season, Peoples and Co. have turned into pickpockets, averaging 17.8 steals per game.

"It will be tough to steal the ball against Georgia's quick guards," Gardner said. "We'll have to score on set plays. That's been hard for us at times, because we don't have pure shooters."

What Arkansas has is hard-nosed competitors like Peoples, Rochelle Vaughn and Sheree Thompson at guard, and forward Sarah Pfeifer off the bench.

Thompson, who leads the team with four assists per game, seemed unfazed by the prospect of SEC play.

"I think we always try to step up our game," Thompson said. "Not one game has gone by that everyone on our team didn't realize we had to step up. Georgia has good guards and physical posts, but our post players have a lot of mental toughness."

Thompson said Arkansas' practices have become more physical lately.

Still, Gardner said she hasn't put extra emphasis on SEC opponents.

"No, I treat every game the same -- as boring as that may sound," she said.

For Arkansas' last game against Oregon, Gardner went in with a script that she never had to use.

"I was planning to go to a 2-3 zone at 16 minutes, and a quick pressing team at 12 minutes," she said. "But we held Oregon to 15 points in the first half, so I didn't change a thing."

Arkansas hasn't played any zone this season, but may have to against the likes of Humphrey, who averages 19.1 points and 8.3 rebounds.

"We'll have to see if (UA center) Kristin Moore gets in foul trouble," Gardner said. "Humphrey can be dominating. She took over Georgia's (78-64) win against (No. 4) Texas."

Georgia's losses were to TCU, Georgia Tech (for the second time ever) and No. 21 Arizona State, a conqueror of No. 11 Connecticut this season.

Arkansas trails Georgia 17-3 in the series, but has won two of the last three games against the Lady Bulldogs.

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