Golden Suns Face Wolves in NCAA 1st Round

Basketball programs that lose 75 percent of their scoring production from the previous season are not supposed to make the NCAA Tournament.

For the Arkansas Tech Golden Suns, a rebuilding year is not part of the equation. Overcoming obstacles is.

“We talk about overcoming personal stuff, things that happen in games and all types of situations,” said Dave Wilbers, who is in his 11th season as the ATU head women’s basketball coach. “It developed into our motto. The players have talked about it a lot, and these young ladies are overcomers. I feel like we’ve been underrated all season long. With the way our team is playing right now, and the fact that we’ve won as many games as anyone in our region, we deserve to be in the NCAA Tournament.”

The Golden Suns (26-3) will face the Northern State University Wolves (25-5) in the first round of the 2018 NCAA Division II Tournament Central Regional on Friday night. Tip-off at the Elmen Center in Sioux Falls, S.D., is set for 8 p.m. Live coverage will be available on KCJC 102.3 FM, www.rivercountrykcjc.com and www.arkansastechsports.com.

The Golden Suns were 22-8 one year ago during the senior season for Anissa Pounds, Danielle Frachiseur, Kelsey McClure and Calli White, all of whom averaged 8.8 or more points per game during the 2016-17 campaign.

With those four players lost to graduation, Arkansas Tech has regularly started three newcomers — including two true freshmen — during the 2017-18 season.

Junior forward Lyrik Williams (12.7 points per game) and freshman guards Jayana Sanders (12.3 points per game), Ke’Vonshaye Stackhouse (11.2 points per game) and Jacie Higgins (8.1 points per game) have joined returneers Cheyenne North (11.8 points, 8.7 rebounds, 3.7 assists and 2.9 blocked shots per game), Kylie Ladd (10.6 points, 3.9 rebounds, 3.2 assists and 3.0 steals per game) and Ryann Goodsell (5.5 points and 4.4 rebounds per game) to lead the Golden Suns to a fourth consecutive NCAA Tournament appearance.

Senior forward McKenzie Morris, junior guard Taylor Ely, sophomore guard Leighton Taylor and freshman guard Ashley Breathitt round out the active roster for Arkansas Tech.

The Golden Suns assured themselves of a berth in the NCAA Tournament by defeating Harding University 63-62 in the Great American Conference Tournament championship game on Sunday. North was named GAC Tournament most valuable player after she scored 35 points in a semifinal win over Henderson State University and had a championship Sunday performance that included 16 points, eight rebounds, nine blocked shots and six assists.

Arkansas Tech enters the NCAA Tournament on a 10-game winning streak, and the Suns have won 17 of their last 18 games.

Northern State earned a share of the Northern Sun Intercollegiate Conference North Division regular season championship. The Wolves had a 10-game winning streak of their own late in the season, but a 57-44 loss to Winona State University in the NSIC Tournament quarterfinals on Feb. 25 stopped Northern State’s momentum. NSU has been idle since that defeat.

Senior center Miranda Ristau is the Wolves’ No. 1 weapon. Ristau leads the NSIC and ranks 18th nationally in scoring (19.8 points per game). She also averages 7.2 rebounds, 2.4 assists and 2.1 blocked shots per game.

Northern State leads NCAA Division II in rebound margin (+13.4 rebounds per game).

The winner of the ATU-NSU game will advance to the regional semifinal round at 7:30 p.m. Saturday. The NCAA Division II Tournament Central Region championship game is scheduled for 7 p.m. Monday. All games during the regional will be played at the Elmen Center in Sioux Falls.

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