Golden Suns Win South Region Championship

Arkansas Tech ended Delta State’s two-year reign as champion of NCAA Division II South Region women’s basketball by defeating the Lady Statesmen 73-62 in the regional final at Tucker Coliseum in Russellville on Tuesday night.

The nationally fourth-ranked Golden Suns (31-2) shot 61 percent from the field in the second half and finished with a 19-0 edge in points off turnovers as they earned their first NCAA South Region title since 1999.

With the win, Arkansas Tech advances to the NCAA Elite Eight in St. Joseph, Mo., March 23-26. The Suns will face defending national runner-up and nationally second-ranked Franklin Pierce (N.H.) in the national quarterfinals at 2:30 p.m. on Tuesday, March 23.

Arkansas Tech freshman Jessica Weatherford was named NCAA South Regional most valuable player after she scored 24 points and grabbed 12 rebounds in the final. Weatherford was 9-of-11 from the field and 6-of-7 from the free throw line.

Natalia Santos added 15 points and Jenny Vining had 11 points for the Golden Suns, who won their 18th consecutive home game.

Delta State (27-4) led 35-34 at halftime, but Tech scored the first six points of the second half to take a 40-35 edge with 17:51 remaining.

The Suns never surrendered the lead the rest of the way. Delta got to within 43-41 with 14:25 left, but five straight points from Weatherford quickly rebuilt the Tech lead to seven points.

Santos followed with a 3-point play, and the Suns’ lead reached double figures for the first time at 51-41 with 11:35 to go.

Shameka Russell made a 3-pointer for Delta State with 3:14 remaining to cut Tech’s lead to 63-59, but Santos responded with a basket and the Suns made 8-of-8 at the free throw line over the final 1:48 to put it away.

Veronica Walker had 21 points and 15 rebounds for the Lady Statesmen. DSU’s Bug Cooper had 18 points.

Delta State’s Walker and Cooper and Arkansas Tech’s Weatherford, Santos and Vining were the members of the All-South Regional team.

The Golden Suns previously won NCAA South Region titles in 1998 and 1999. Tech’s best-ever showing in the NCAA Division II Tournament came in 1999, when the Golden Suns finished as national runners-up.

Arkansas Tech will aim for its third national championship in women’s basketball when it arrives in St. Joseph. The Golden Suns captured NAIA national championships in 1992 and 1993 prior to the school’s move to NCAA Division II status in 1995-96.