Friday, November 16, 2001

Kreager rises from XU bench

Soph projected as key source of frontcourt help

By Neil Schmidt
The Cincinnati Enquirer

        As a freshman last season, Xavier's Kate Kreager played regularly against one of the nation's toughest front lines.


        Kreager drew daily duty defending Jennifer Phillips, Taru Tuukkanen and Nicole Levandusky. Those three wound up as WNBA draftees. Kreager wound up with an education.

        “You can't help but get stronger going against (honorable mention) All-Americans every day,” she said. “I really learned how to play the post.”

        Good thing, for XU needs Kreager to be big. The 6-foot-3 sophomore forward/center enters tonight's season opener at Indiana State as the only front-line player with significant experience.

        “She's ready to step up and be that go-to post player,” coach Melanie Balcomb said.

        This ready: Kreager totaled 33 points and 13 rebounds Saturday in an 88-85 exhibition loss to the Reebok Lady Stars.

        “She's been playing like that in practice every day,” Balcomb said.

        XU has a strong three-guard backcourt, with co-captains Amy Waugh and Reetta Piipari flanked by speedy wing Shavon Bell. But the frontcourt will be young and undersized.

        Kreager averaged only 3.1 points and 2.2 rebounds last winter (in 10.4 minutes) but led the team by shooting 65.2 percent. In the seven games she played 15 or more minutes, she averaged 8.7 points and 5.7 rebounds while shooting 69.4 percent. She led the bench in minutes played.

        Kreager and the other frontcourt starter, 6-1 sophomore Aida Sarajlija, represent a different look for XU's offense. They may not be as strong as Phillips, Tuukkanen and Levandusky — who combined for 60 percent of the team's rebounds last winter — but they'll be faster.

        Sarajlija averaged 13.5 points and five rebounds in two exhibitions.

        “I think (opponents) are going to think we don't have an inside game, and I think they're going to be surprised,” Balcomb said. “Kate and Aida are definitely going to hold their own. With Jen and "T,' we tried to go a lot more half-court last year to bang it in to them, and now we want to go more full-court and take advantage of the speed in our post players.”

        All aspects of Kreager's game seem to be improving. Her field goal percentage in two exhibitions was 75 percent (15-for-20). And after shooting 42.2 percent on free throws last season, she hit 75 percent (9-of-12) in preseason.

        “I don't think there's any limitations to what Kate Kreager can do,” Balcomb said. “Because of her work ethic and because she really wants to be good, she's willing to pay the price.”

        XU must replace four starters and 75 percent of its scoring from its 31-3 Elite Eight team. No player remaining has been in the program more than two years.

        Balcomb plans to flip-flop Piipari and Waugh at point guard to keep opponents off-balance. Waugh averaged nine assists and Piipari 3.5 in the preseason. So even though Piipari led the nation in assists last season (8.3 avg.), she might get more time at shooting guard than at the point.

        Bell, who scored 15 points in the first exhibition and is capable of slashing moves to the basket, is the team's defensive stopper, Balcomb said.


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