Lady Lions start with Wildcats

The Nate Kilbert era for the Arkansas-Pine Bluff women’s basketball team officially starts at 2 p.m. today when the Lady Lions take on Kansas State in Manhattan, Kan., to open the season.

Kilbert joins UAPB after leading Mississippi Valley State to an 18-14 record, including SWAC-best 14-4 record. He takes over for Cary Shelton, who led UAPB to a 1-29 overall record and 1-17 in the SWAC. The Lady Lions have won only two games over the past two seasons.

Kilbert’s system is an up-tempo system, which is completely different than what UAPB ran last year. But the Lady Lions have had all of the spring, summer and fall to prepare for the amount of running they will have to do in his system.

Kilbert has even said that the players are working really hard to acclimate themselves to his style of play.

“That’s a good thing because we are giving them a lot of different things,” he said. “The attitudes have been real good, so I am just looking forward to that first game and see how they will respond.”

However, Kilbert did admit that his team still has a long way to go.

“There’s a lot of stuff we haven’t had the chance to go over with them yet and we just haven’t had time,” he said. “It’s going to be a work in progress for us and we are going to get better as the season goes on.”

UAPB faces a daunting task in its first game of the season. Kansas State, which beat Idaho State 62-54 to open the season on Friday, was 20-14 last season and 9-9 in the Big 12. The Wildcats made it to the NCAA Tournament before losing 72-26 to Connecticut in the first round.

It was the second straight year Kansas State made the NCAA tournament and finished with at least 20 wins, and the Wildcats have a 14-game home winning streak.

“Their tough, no question,” Kilbert said. “Defensively, their man-to-man is just so aggressive that it makes it tough to run your set plays. So it’s going to be a challenge for us and we will have to step our game up just to stay in the game.”

Later this season, UAPB faces a Wichita State team that won 20 games last season, along with non-conference opponents Missouri and Alabama. But Kansas State will probably be the toughest team the Lady Lions face all season.

“If I had to pick one, I would say Kansas State,” Kilbert said. “I know how tough they are and how mentally tough they are.”

The Lady Lions return leading scorer Chi Chi Okwumabua from last year. She averaged 11.7 points per game and 5.6 rebounds per game.

Sophomores Amber Haggie and Carlisha Walker will not make the trip to Manhattan because of injuries. Walker has high ankle sprain and Walker is dealing with a foot injury, Kilbert said.

After Kansas State, UAPB hosts Philander Smith on Thursday at 6 p.m. at H.O. Clemmons Arena.