FORT SMITH — With its season opener rapidly approaching, the UAFS women’s basketball team will take to the court on Thursday night against NCAA Division I Missouri State University in a preseason exhibition game.

Tip-off will be at 7:05 p.m. at John Q. Hammons Arena in Springfield, Mo. It will be the first of two exhibition games this week for the Lady Lions, who will host Evangel University in an exhibition game on Saturday at 3 p.m. at the Stubblefield Center.

"Those are two good teams that will get us ready for the season opener," UAFS coach Louis Whorton said.

It will be the first of two exhibition games for Missouri State, which also will host Maryville University on Monday as a final tune-up for its season opener against Arkansas State on Nov. 11 in Jonesboro.

"Going against a Division I team is something you don’t get to do during the regular season, so we always look forward to that," Whorton said. "It’s the first time you get to wear your game warm-ups and game jerseys and play it like it’s a regular game rather than practice. It gets you even more ready for the start of the season."

It won’t be the first game action for the Lady Lions this preseason. UAFS scrimmaged NCAA Division II Pittsburg State at the Stubblefield Center on Oct. 20, and Whorton was pleased with this team’s performance.

"It’s always good to get an early scrimmage in against a good team," Whorton said. "It showed us what we needed to work on. That’s what you hope to do in between. In the exhibition game, you’ve worked on it and you hope that you can now do it."

The Lady Lions return seven players, including two redshirts, from last season’s team that finished 7-19 overall and 3-9 in the Heartland Conference. They join 10 new players on the Lady Lions’ 17-player roster.

Needless to say, there has been a lot of teaching going on during preseason practice, which began on Oct. 15.

"There’s been a lot of teaching from willing learners. This bunch has been very open to being coached. One thing we haven’t had to coach this fall is effort, and I give our returning players credit for that," Whorton said. "Usually when you have this much youth, you’re having to teach them how hard you need to practice every day and how hard you have to compete during a game. From the first day we stepped on the practice floor, our returning players have set a standard that you are going to run hard if you are going to play at UAFS."

Whorton will be evaluating a lot of different aspects of his Lady Lions team during its game against Missouri State, particularly how well the team competes.

"The trademark of our program is that we want to play harder than anyone else in the country, and what I want the kids to feel like when they walk off the court against Missouri State that they’ve played harder than the other team," Whorton said. "If we can do that, then we can start learning the rest of the stuff. The first thing that has to come is effort, and we have certainly had that in practice."

They will get a good early test from the Lady Bears.

Missouri State returns three starters from last year’s team that finished 14-17 overall and 6-12 in the Missouri Valley Conference. The Lady Bears are under the direction of first-year coach Kellie Harper, who spent the past four seasons as head coach at North Carolina State.

"I am pleased with where we are. Now it’s just time to put it on exhibit in front of another team," Whorton said.