The Lady Indians (20-10) have handled all comers this season, including the likes of Western Kentucky, Middle Tennessee and, in the first round of the WNIT, Mississippi State (78-61).
No wonder Arkansas State made sure to outbid – tossing in $40,000 – Arkansas for the right to play at home.
"They haven't lost at home," said UA coach Susie Gardner. "I'm sure our players are aware of their win over Mississippi State. They know how impressive that is, because we know Mississippi State so well."
Arkansas (17-13) beat MSU twice this season but was 2-12 against the rest of the Southeastern Conference.
Gardner, though, has reminded the Lady'Backs that in their 13-1 ledger against teams from outside the SEC are wins against the Pac-10 (Oregon), Big Ten (Indiana), Atlantic Coast Conference (Georgia Tech), Conference USA (Memphis, Cincinnati), Sun Belt (Western Kentucky, Louisiana-Lafayette), Missouri Valley (Wichita State) and Mountain West (UNLV in Friday's WNIT first-round home win).
"Our schedule, including the SEC, has prepared us for anything," Gardner said. "There's nothing we haven't seen in terms of philosophy. I read that some of our girls have said we can make a run through this tournament. I didn't say that, but they did.
"They're not cocky, but they are prepared."
Arkansas must contend with a balanced ASU team that has started four players in all 30 games and a fifth player for 29 games.
Adrianne Davie, a 6-3 sophomore center from Little Rock, leads the Lady Indians with 14.8 points and 9.8 rebounds per game. Shooting guard Ali Carter of Pocahontas averages 13.5 points, while 5-7 guard Rudy Sims of nearby Memphis averages 11.4. Zaneta Lane, a 5-11 senior guard from Illinois, averages 8.5.
"Arkansas State has everything you need," Gardner said. "They're taller than we are inside and quicker on the perimeter. Davie works hard and plays older than a sophomore. Brian Boyer, their coach, is a quality person. He's passionate about basketball in Arkansas."
Speaking of such, Gardner likes this matchup.
"I think this game is a good thing for the state," she said.
That doesn't necessarily square with longtime UA policy, but it might spare Gardner some ASU fans' wrath tonight.
Like former UA men's coach Nolan Richardson in 1987, Gardner sees this NIT game against ASU as an opportunity to develop young players.
"Arkansas State runs a motion offense with a lot of sets, and they have pressed some," Gardner said. "They can play man or zone defense. We practiced against their set plays on Saturday."
In 1987, many red-and-black-clad ASU fans made their way to old Barnhill Arena, where Arkansas' men fell behind the Indians by 23 points before rallying frantically to win 67-64.
There should be some UA fans on hand tonight among the 5,000-plus (which will be a Convocation Center record for a Lady Indians game) who have tickets, but how many or how vocal is anyone's guess.
It would be advisable for the Lady'Backs to get off to a good start, as opposed to trailing 10-2 early and having to call timeout.
Tonight's winner plays the Iowa-Nebraska winner in the third round. If Arkansas can survive, it will put in a competitive bid to host the third-round game.
Lady'Backs ‘Prepared' For ASU
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