Lady'Backs Limp To Auburn

AUBURN, Ala. -- Reeling from a desultory 75-52 home loss against Ole Miss on Sunday, Arkansas' women must rally tonight against an Auburn team on an uptick.

The Tigers (10-9, 1-5 in the Southeastern Conference) have gelled in their last two games with a 59-43 win over Alabama and a close 57-52 loss against No. 1 LSU.

Arkansas (13-7, 2-6) is battling an injury bug with two post players (Kristin Moore, Ruby Vaden) out for the season and another, 6-foot-2 Kristin Andjelkovic, slowed by a bruised shin and possible broken nose.

In addition, sophomore forward Sarah Pfeifer has to ice a shoulder after every practice; sophomore forward Danielle Allen suffered back spasms against Ole Miss; junior guard Sheree Thompson has a strained hamstring and sophomore guard Kristin Peoples has been battling dehydration.

"Obviously, the injuries have hurt," Pfeifer said. "But we don't want to use that as an excuse."

UA coach Susie Gardner had a 15-minute heart-to-heart talk with the Lady Razorbacks after Tuesday's practice.

"We needed to know how she's feeling and what she expects," Allen said. "If losing is hurting her this much, then it has to matter to us that much."

Gardner was at least pleased that half her team arrived early for extra shooting on Tuesday. That included Allen, who made 23 of 25 free throws after Gardner worked with her.

Unaccountably, Allen has made just 31.3 percent of her free throws this season and only 29 percent in SEC play, while leading Arkansas in SEC scoring with 10.9 points per SEC game.

"I made about 80 percent of my free throws in high school," Allen said. "Today coach Gardner said I had too much movement in my hands during the shot. She told me to be a machine at the line."

Gardner has tried to be patient with the Lady'Backs, but tonight she's not starting 5-foot-8 guard Rochelle Vaughn for the first time this season, in favor of the 5-10 Thompson.

"I didn't feel there was effort from Ro for 40 minutes against Ole Miss -- for the first time this season," Gardner said. "We'd better be swinging at the third pitch and getting after it. Just give me effort -- that's all I ask."

Auburn, like Arkansas, starts three guards -- seniors Natasha Brackett and Nicole Louden, and 6-1 junior Louise Emeagi. Brackett leads the Tigers with 15.9 points per game and Emeagi is next at 11.9, plus 7.1 rebounds per game.

"Auburn is more guard-oriented under Nell Fortner, their new coach," Gardner said. "And they play man-to-man defense, rather than (former Tigers coach Joe Ciampi's) 1-3-1 zone."

Marita Payne, a 6-5 junior center, gives Auburn good balance. She blocked eight shots against 19-1 LSU.

A month ago, Arkansas might have tried a full-court press against Auburn, but Gardner said, "We haven't pressed in a long time. Moore was the backup in our press. Danielle can't press and play 35 minutes. Pressing is not Pfeifer's or Andjelkovic's best thing."

Gardner had to spend part of Tuesday's practice on fundamentals, like emphasizing the guard-to-post pass, and force-feeding 6-foot guard Melissa Hobbs the power forward position.

When Hobbs caught an elbow to the nose from UA assistant Johnnie Harris in a one-on-one drill, Harris joked, "She's afraid to play me now."

Because of Arkansas' attrition rate this season, Gardner said, "I'm not doing half of what I normally do this time of year -- things like adding in-bounds plays. We've shortened practice."

Gardner praised Pfeifer's perseverance through the pain.

"No one knows how much ice she's had all over her on the bus, how much time she's put in," Gardner said. "She's our best scoring option inside, but she's giving up about six inches to Payne. She can shot-fake, but it doesn't matter if Payne jumps. So Sarah can try to (1) go around her, (2) shoot the fade-away, or (3) shoot the elbow jumper."

It seems essential for Arkansas to get off to a good start against the Tigers, who appear to be hitting their SEC stride.

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