Gardner Now Eyes WNIT For Lady'Backs

FAYETTEVILLE -- Arkansas' women's basketball team, awaiting a possible WNIT bid on Sunday, had one of its most spirited practices of the season on Tuesday.

"This is a team I want to coach and be around," said Arkansas coach Susie Gardner. "They want to keep playing."

The Lady Razorbacks (16-13) will practice daily through Friday, take Saturday off, watch the Women's NCAA Selection Show at 4 p.m. Sunday on ESPN, then meet to prepare for WNIT play.

"I thought this was going to be an NCAA Tournament team," Gardner admitted. "When we were 10-1 after beating Oregon, I thought, 'This is a team that is going to surprise folks.' But then we had those injuries (to post players Kristin Moore and Ruby Vaden)."

Arkansas limped home to an 11th-place finish in the Southeastern Conference at 3-11, but did defeat sixth-seeded Mississippi State in the first round of the SEC Tournament before losing to Vanderbilt.

SEC Commissioner Mike Slive said he thought at least eight SEC teams deserved to make the women's NCAA Tournament, but a more realistic guess is six: LSU, Tennessee, Georgia, Vanderbilt, Ole Miss and possibly Auburn.

Arkansas is No. 55 in the WBCA RPI ranking, with a No. 45 strength of schedule. That places the Lady'Backs eighth among SEC teams, ahead of Mississippi State (63), Alabama (66), Kentucky (79) and South Carolina.

Only Alabama and South Carolina are under .500 and ineligible for WNIT consideration.

"I think we'll get a WNIT bid," Gardner said. "After three days off, we had a good practice Tuesday. Sarah Pfeifer came bounding out there with fresh legs. We'll use this week to get better."

Gardner, who has never experienced the WNIT, had no interest in playing in it last season despite a 16-12 record and the presence of SEC Player of the Year Shameka Christon, who was approaching a school career scoring record.

It's no secret that Gardner and Christon did not see eye to eye on all matters.

Now Gardner says about the WNIT: "We would get all kinds of positives from it. We want our seasons to last well into March. Only four of our players have played in postseason, and two of those are hurt. Maybe people will be intrigued by Pfeifer, the SEC Scholar Athlete of the Year.

"There's something about March tournaments. It would be awesome to play in Bud Walton Arena."

Pfeifer leads a balanced UA team in scoring with an 11.8 average, followed by guard Kristin Peoples at 9.6, Danielle Allen and Rochelle Vaughn at 9.4 each. Moore led in rebounds at 5.8, but Allen leads the active rebounders with a 5.3 average.

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