A Basketball Rivalry With Few Peers

For those who lived through the various eras of the rivalry over the past two decades, no explanation is necessary.

Arkansas Tech Golden Suns vs. Delta State Lady Statesmen, 5:30 p.m. on Friday, Nov. 21, at Tucker Coliseum in Russellville.

For the less indoctrinated, it begins with this: Arkansas Tech and Delta State represent two of the five most successful programs in NCAA Division II women’s basketball in terms of all-time victories and all-time winning percentage. They have combined to win eight national championships.

When they first met, they were both defending national champions. The Golden Suns, defending NAIA national champions, swept a season series from the Lady Statesmen, defending NCAA Division II national champions, during the 1992-93 season.

When Arkansas Tech moved to NCAA Division II status in 1995 and joined Delta State in the Gulf South Conference, the women’s basketball rivalry between the two programs enjoyed an almost uninterrupted 16-year run of memorable games and personalities.

There were times when the Golden Suns held the upper hand. There were times when the Lady Statesmen held the upper hand. The most recent chapter belonged to Arkansas Tech.

After suffering through 12 consecutive losses to Delta State from 2005-09, the Golden Suns turned the tables with a 56-47 win on Jan. 23, 2010, in front of a crowd of 3,122 fans at Tucker Coliseum.

Arkansas Tech went on to defeat the Lady Statesmen in the GSC Tournament championship game and the NCAA Division II Tournament South Regional championship game in both 2010 and 2011. Of the eight meetings between the two sides during the 2009-10 and 2010-11 seasons, six were won by the Golden Suns.

Their most recent match-up resulted in an 85-77 Arkansas Tech victory in the NCAA Division II Tournament South Regional title contest on March 14, 2011.

During the following academic year, Arkansas Tech moved forward to the Great American Conference. Tech and DSU have not met in women’s basketball since.

When the programs reunite on Friday night, there will only be two participants who have first-hand knowledge of what the rivalry was. For Arkansas Tech, only head coach Dave Wilbers remains from that era. Shameka Russell will be on the Delta State bench as an assistant coach. She was a three-year letter winner for the Lady Statesmen from 2008-11.

The Golden Suns (1-0) opened their 2014-15 season with a 100-40 win over Ecclesia College on Monday night.

The Lady Statesmen (0-1) dropped their season opener 65-40 at nationally 15th-ranked Harding University on Monday night. Delta State is under the direction of first-year head coach Craig Roden, who previously served as head coach at GSC members University of West Alabama and University of West Georgia.

Tickets for Friday’s game will be available at the door. Those with a valid Arkansas Tech identification card will be admitted free of charge.

Radio station KWKK 100.9 FM will have the play-by-play description. Live video, live audio and live statistics will be available at www.arkansastechsports.com.

Photographed: Shaquilah Davis holds the 2011 NCAA Division II South Region championship trophy high above her head while celebrating with teammates at Tucker Coliseum on March 14, 2011.

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