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Dancing Again: Suns Open NCAA Play Friday

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http://athletics.atu.edu. It is the 11th NCAA Tournament appearance since 1998 for Arkansas Tech, and its fourth NCAA berth during Wilbers’ six-year tenure with the Golden Suns. “The biggest way we responded was with our challenging non-conference schedule,” said Wilbers when asked about any motivation that his program might have derived from being left out of the 2012 NCAA Tournament despite a 22-4 overall record. “There were times during the season that our schedule was rated as the toughest in the country. Our conference also really picked it up this year, and that helped our strength of schedule. Of course, you always have to win games to make the regional. This will be a very difficult field this weekend. The team that comes out of this regional will have a chance to win it all.” Arkansas Tech has won 11 consecutive games and 16 of its last 17. The Golden Suns were regular season and postseason champions of the GAC. The duo of Jessica Weatherford and Rosie Silva led Arkansas Tech to its 23rd regular season championship and the 31st 20-win season in the 36-year history of the institution’s intercollegiate women’s basketball program. Weatherford, a senior forward from Bonnerdale (16.1 points, 7.6 rebounds per game), was most valuable player at the GAC Tournament and a first-team All-GAC selection this season. Silva, a senior point guard from Caracas, Venezuela (15.3 points, 5.5 rebounds, 5.0 assists, 5.1 steals per game), was the GAC regular season player of the year, the GAC regular season defensive player of the year and a member of the All-GAC Tournament team. Minnesota State-Mankato is in the women’s NCAA Division II Tournament for the second consecutive year and the fourth time in the last six years. The Mavericks won the 2009 NCAA Division II national championship with a 32-2 overall record. Ranked 17th in this week’s Women’s Basketball Coaches Association NCAA Division II top 25 poll, MSU-Mankato saw a 14-game winning streak come to an end with an 81-73 loss to Augustana College in the championship game of the Northern Sun Intercollegiate Conference Tournament on Saturday. “(MSU-Mankato) does a great job of running transition offense,” said Wilbers. “That makes them difficult to prepare for. They make nice outlet passes, and all of their players do a good job of running the floor. We have to contain their transition. It will probably be an up-tempo game. I expect there to be a lot of scoring.” The Mavericks enter the NCAA Tournament ranked among the national leaders in scoring offense (8th, 76.8 points per game), turnover margin (8th, +6.37 per game), field goal percentage (13th, .439) and 3-point field goals (15th, 7.4 per game). MSU-Mankato junior forward Ali Wilkinson (17.4 points, 7.9 rebounds per game) was a first-team All-NSIC selection. “They use (Wilkinson) in a variety of ways,” said Wilbers. “She can shoot the 3-pointer. She’s a very skilled post player. I am very impressed with the overall skill level of their team. They handle the basketball well and play very good man-to-man defense. It will be a good challenge, but once you make the tournament and a regional like this one, everybody is going to have a tough game.” The winner of the first-round game between Arkansas Tech and Minnesota State-Mankato will advance to a regional semifinal game at 7 p.m. Saturday against either top-seeded Washburn University or No. 8 seed Emporia State. The NCAA Division II Tournament Central Regional championship game is scheduled for 7 p.m. Monday. All games during the regional will be played at Lee Arena on the Washburn University campus.]]>