Lady'Backs Upbeat As They Prepare For UNLV

FAYETTEVILLE -- With Arkansas guard Sheree Thompson attending a lab on Monday afternoon, Lady Razorbacks coach Susie Gardner felt frisky enough to step in and play a little during her team's basketball practice.

"You should have seen it," Gardner said, grinning. "I dived on the floor for a loose ball and then everyone was diving on the floor."

A team that seemed downhearted in January after season-ending knee injuries to centers Kristin Moore and Ruby Vaden is suddenly practicing as if there's no tomorrow, as the Lady'Backs prepare to open WNIT play against Nevada-Las Vegas at 7 p.m. Friday in Bud Walton Arena.

Gardner has instilled a sense of fun lately, and even Moore and Vaden caught the spirit from the sidelines on Tuesday as they giggled while taking turns taping ice onto each other's injured knee.

Freshman guard Brittney Vaughn tried some outlandish, pre-practice dunks on a side goal that had been lowered to eight feet, while sophomore guard Melissa "Hobbit" Hobbs dribbled the ball with her knees and then nearly made a 15-foot shot while looking in the opposite direction at UA assistant coach Rena Faust-Holden.

For the third time in four years, the Lady'Backs are the only UA postseason game in town. They reached the second round of the 2002 and 2003 NCAA Women's Tournaments, before electing not to play in the WNIT last season with a 16-12 record.

This season's Lady'Backs are younger and less willing to put the basketballs away.

Arkansas' 6-foot sophomore Bobbsey Twins, Danielle Allen and Sarah Pfeifer, made that clear during a Monday press conference.

On Tuesday, Pfeifer said, "I think the competition in the WNIT is going to be tough. It looks like there are going to be some great first-round games."

One of those could be UNLV (16-14) against Arkansas (16-13).

"I tell ya what, UNLV is good," Gardner said. "They're darned good."

The Lady Rebels, more experienced than Arkansas with four seniors and four juniors among their 14 active players, lost just 84-76 to No. 4 North Carolina (27-3) this season.

They lost 68-65 to NCAA Tournament team New Mexico before 16,084 fans at Albuquerque, N.M., then lost just 70-67 to the Lobos in the Mountain West Conference Tournament last week.

UNLV drew a home crowd of 10,337 for its 66-60 win over state rival Nevada-Reno.

The Lady Rebs have two 6-foot-4 centers who play sparingly (Amy Loftus, Tiffani Burries), plus 6-1 senior center/forward RanDee Henry, who averages 14 points per game.

Arkansas counters inside with Pfeifer, who averages 11.8 points but improved that to 12.8 in Southeastern Conference play and to 17.5 points in her last 10 games. Pfeifer started just 15 of 29 games but lately has become an offensive force.

Allen, Arkansas' leading rebounder with a 5.3 average, does most of the little things well, such as wreak havoc on the opponent's in-bounds person.

With five practice days available before the UNLV game, Gardner had the luxury of working on some specific late-game "time and score" situations on Tuesday.

Senior guard April Seggebruch, Gardner's designated in-bounds passer in nearly every situation, limped a bit with plantar fascitis on Wednesday, but UA trainer Phill Vardiman said Seggebruch's foot had not swollen much and she should be fine against UNLV.

Hawgs Daily Top Stories