Arkansas Tech put itself in contention for Gulf South Conference West Division men’s and women’s basketball championships during the month of January the hard way --- on the road. After playing four of their first six conference doubleheaders on the road, the nationally fifth-ranked Golden Suns (16-2 overall, 5-1 GSC) and the nationally 15th-ranked Wonder Boys (15-3, 6-0) will return to Tucker Coliseum for three consecutive home dates beginning Thursday, Feb. 3. Arkansas Tech will host Henderson State at 5:30 p.m. (women) and 7:30 p.m. (men). Tickets will be available at the door. Those with a valid Tech identification card will be admitted free. The Golden Suns are in sole possession of second place in the GSC West women’s standings. Tech is one-half game behind front-running and nationally third-ranked Delta State (18-1, 6-1). The Wonder Boys lead the GSC West Division men’s race by a half-game over nationally 20th-ranked Harding (16-3, 6-1). Both Arkansas Tech head coaches are looking forward to the opportunity to play three consecutive games at home. After hosting Henderson State on Thursday, Arkansas Tech will welcome Southern Arkansas (Saturday, Feb. 5) and Christian Brothers (Thursday, Feb. 10) to Tucker Coliseum. "It's great to be back home," said Golden Suns head coach Dave Wilbers. "We've played in some tough places and had some long road trips this year. We love Tucker Coliseum, and one of the biggest factors is our fans down on the floor. Hearing them close to us gives our team a boost, and then with our students up above us it has all combined to give us some great home crowds this year. I think the biggest thing is that our fans are knowledgeable of basketball, and they know when the team needs a lift. Our crowd has always done that." “Our crowd starts with the student section,” said Wonder Boys head coach Doug Karleskint. “We love to have the students out there acting crazy. Several of the guys in the student section came dressed in throw-back Tech uniforms for our last home game. Our guys love it, and they feed off the energy of the crowd.” Arkansas Tech opened GSC play by taking two games from Henderson State on Jan. 8. The Golden Suns shot 61 percent from the field in the second half to defeat the Lady Reddies 85-78, while five Wonder Boys reached double figures in scoring in an 84-74 victory over the Reddies. Henderson State’s women have lost three of their last four games. The Lady Reddies (11-8, 2-5) are 14th in NCAA Division II in scoring offense (78.3 points per game), but they are 189th in the country in scoring defense (67.3 points allowed per game). "(Henderson State) does a good job of playing a lot of different styles," said Wilbers. "We've probably seen it all this year with the type of team we've had. We've faced a lot of different styles, so we've probably seen everything that we know of in college basketball. The thing I like about Henderson State is they always compete. They play to win, and they'll do whatever it takes to win. We know that, and we've had a good week of preparation." The Golden Suns continue to feature one of the most productive and efficient offensive attacks the nation. Arkansas Tech leads all of NCAA women’s basketball in field goal percentage (.512). The Suns rank third in NCAA Division II in assists (20.1 per game), fourth in scoring offense (83.1 points per game) and fifth in 3-point field goal percentage (.401). Recent games have seen opposing teams commit multiple defenders to stopping Tech post players Natalia Santos and Jessica Weatherford. The result has been increased open looks from the outside, and the Golden Suns’ perimeter players have taken full advantage.
Senior Jenny Vining has scored 17 points in each of the last two games. Senior Laura Beth Anderson had 17 points and nine rebounds at Ouachita Baptist on Saturday.
That same game saw junior forward Lindsey Root find her shooting stroke. She hit four 3-pointers and matched her season-high with 12 points to help Tech defeat OBU 82-79.
Add in junior forward Katie Horsman’s 10.5 points per game the last two outings --- including 3-of-7 shooting from 3-point range in wins over Harding and OBU --- and the Golden Suns have made it clear that they will make opponents pay for double teams in the low post.
"One key for us is that our post players have continued to do a good job scoring against double teams," said Wilbers. "That's something we've been working at on a daily basis. On the flip side, our guards have to be ready and understand what their strengths are if someone leaves them to double team the post. All of our players understand what their strengths are, and the last few games we've done a great job of finding the open player. It's really a simple game --- if I've got two girls guarding me, someone is open."
Henderson State’s men (6-13, 1-6) have lost three consecutive games, and the Reddies are 0-7 on the road this season. Henderson State has lost 30 of its last 32 road games and it is 5-44 in GSC play since the start of the 2007-08 season.
All of those numbers aside, the Reddies remain dangerous because of junior forward Josh French. He ranks among the top 10 players in the GSC in both scoring (15.1 points per game) and rebounding (6.9 per game).
“(French) is such a prolific scorer,” said Karleskint. “He did it in high school, he did it in junior college and now he’s doing it at Henderson State. He’s strong, he’s physical and he can score in so many different ways. You’ve got to pressure him and speed him up.” The Wonder Boys have won nine consecutive games, including victories over Harding (85-55) and Ouachita Baptist (83-73) last week. Arkansas Tech was a combined 19-of-37 from 3-point range in those wins.
“The biggest difference in our shooting lately has been our shot selection,” said Karleskint. “Early in the season we were making one pass and then taking a shot, often with a hand in our face. Now we are attacking the rim, and if they take that away from us we’re kicking it out for a 3. We’ve been taking better shots, and that’s why our shooting percentage has been going up.” Radio station KWKK 100.9 FM will broadcast Thursday’s games in the Arkansas River Valley. Live audio and live video streams will be available at www.athletics.atu.edu.]]>