Sunday, March 23, 2003

Wright happy to be home

Shoemaker notebook

By Shannon Russell and John Erardi
The Cincinnati Enquirer

Lakota West grad Cara Wright now plays for the Arkansas Razorbacks.
(Tony Jones photo)
| ZOOM |
Lakota West graduate Cara Wright will be playing at home for the first time in three years this afternoon.

But Cincinnati is the team she wants to beat.

Wright, a 6-foot Arkansas sophomore, was all smiles after a Saturday afternoon practice at Shoemaker Center. Several of Wright's Cincinnati friends attended Arkansas' open practice to visit their old friend.

"It's great to be back," Wright said. "I was so excited when we were watching the (Selection Sunday) show. I was secretly crossing my fingers that we'd be playing here."

Wright, who holds Lakota West's career scoring and rebounding records, caught up with former high school coach Andy Fishman after practice.

"She looked great. She's in dynamite shape, and you could see she was having lots of fun out there," Fishman said.

Wright is often one of Arkansas' first players off the bench, averaging 2.3 points and 2.5 rebounds a game.

Coach Gary Blair said Wright might start today's game, but didn't announce a formal decision.

As a member of the Southeastern Conference, Arkansas has played some of the country's strongest programs.

Blair said he's ready for a new brand of competition in Cincinnati.

"I was glad to see Laurie (Pirtle). We're just tired of going against (Tennessee's) Pat Summitts and (Alabama's) Rick Moodys," Blair said.

The women's NCAA Tournament unites four programs in first- and second-round games at Shoemaker Center beginning today.

Blair, the winningest coach in Arkansas history, has never played against Pirtle, University of Cincinnati's winningest coach. Arkansas, which could face Texas or Hampton in the second round, hasn't faced the Longhorns since 1991.

The Lady Razorbacks routed Hampton 78-41 Nov. 29 in the Virgin Islands' Paradise Jam.

The West Region games bring together several potential first-time matchups: Texas has never met Hampton or UC. The Bearcats have never played Texas, Hampton or Arkansas.

Critics have called the West Region the toughest road in the tournament.

"I think we're having our own mini-championship in the West Region," Texas coach Jody Conradt said.

BACK IN ACTION: Arkansas freshman forward Sarah Pfeifer dislocated her left shoulder in a Feb. 25 practice and missed the last two regular-season games and the SEC Tournament. Pfeifer, who averages 4 points and 3.1 rebounds, should play today.

"We're going to need her, because of how physical Cincinnati is," Blair said.

CITY WATCH: The Arkansas team ate dinner at Montgomery Inn Friday and practiced at Xavier University's Cintas Center Saturday before a designated practice session at UC. Blair had big plans after press conferences adjourned.

"I want to go see that new (Great American Ball Park)," said Blair, a self-professed baseball (and Pete Rose) fan.

GET YOUR TICKETS: UC associate sports information director Brian McCann said 3,000 all-session tickets had been sold by Saturday.

Single-game tickets will be sold at the door today ($10 for adults, $6 college students with IDs and kids). All-session passes will still be sold today. For the two first-round games and Tuesday's second-round game, adult tickets are $15 and students/kids are $10.

COOL 'DO: The buzz about Arkansas leading scorer Shameka Christon at the start of Saturday's press conference wasn't about basketball. It was about her hair. Her braided up-do was streaked red and white, an homage to Arkansas' colors. Christon, who styled her own hair, said it took three hours to do. In the 2002 NCAA Tournament, Christon had purple streaks.

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