The first two weeks of Gulf South Conference West Division women’s basketball play have taught us this much --- it will be more than a two-team race in 2010-11. Two of the four teams in the thick of the early GSC West title hunt will meet at Tucker Coliseum in Russellville tonight (Thursday, Jan. 27) when nationally fifth-ranked Arkansas Tech hosts Harding University. Tip-off between the Golden Suns (14-2 overall, 3-1 GSC) and the Lady Bisons (13-4, 4-1) is set for 5:30 p.m. Tickets will be available at the door. Those with a valid Tech identification card will be admitted free. From very early on it was apparent last season that the GSC West would come down to Arkansas Tech and Delta State. Appropriately, their two-month tussle for the title resulted in the Golden Suns and the Lady Statesmen sharing the 2009-10 GSC West championship. With Arkansas Tech ranked No. 1 and DSU No. 2 in the preseason USA Today/ESPN NCAA Division II top 25, conventional thinking was that they would separate from the GSC West pack again this season. Harding and Ouachita Baptist did not receive that word. The Lady Bisons already own a win over Delta State, while the OBU Lady Tigers have bounced back from a disappointing 2009-10 campaign behind a revitalized 3-point shooting attack. Delta State, Harding and Ouachita Baptist share the GSC West lead with matching league records of 4-1. Arkansas Tech finds itself one-half game off the pace in the GSC West, but the Golden Suns can drastically change their position in the league race during a 48-hour span this week. After hosting Harding, Tech goes to Ouachita Baptist on Saturday afternoon. “There are too many good and experienced players on every team for any team or any two teams to run away with the league this year,” said Arkansas Tech head coach Dave Wilbers. “I think it will come down to who can pull off an upset or two on someone else’s home court, as well as who can remain injury-free and continue to improve throughout the season. It’s going to be a great race, and I think we’ll all beat each other up for the rest of the conference season. It should be exciting.” The Golden Suns saw their 10-game winning streak come to an end with a 68-58 loss at Delta State last Saturday. Tech was minus-6 in turnover margin and minus-10 in rebound margin in the loss. Harding won its fourth consecutive game by defeating Arkansas-Monticello 52-40 on Monday. The Lady Bisons held the Cotton Blossoms to 34 percent shooting from the field, including just 3-of-17 (18 percent) from beyond the 3-point arc. That defensive effort is representative of Harding’s transformation from last year to this. The Lady Bisons allowed opponents to shoot 39.2 percent from the field in 2009-10. This season, they have dropped that figure to 33.7 percent.
Harding leads the GSC and ranks eighth in NCAA Division II in field goal percentage defense. On Thursday, the Lady Bisons will be faced with stopping the top field goal shooting team in all of NCAA women’s basketball.
Arkansas Tech has connected on 51.8 percent of its field goal tries this season, which ranks No. 1 in NCAA Division II. It is also a higher field goal percentage than the top shooting team in NCAA Division I (Connecticut, 50.0 percent) and the top shooting team in NCAA Division III (Mississippi College, 48.5 percent).
“(Harding) does a good job in the half court of helping each other and rotating,” said Wilbers. “They mix their defenses up, and they are a better defensive team than last year. Some of it might be personnel, but they are guarding and challenging almost every shot. We’ll have to be good in the half court and run our transition game.”
The game will be broadcast in the Arkansas River Valley by radio station KWKK 100.9 FM. There will be live audio and live video feeds from the game available at www.athletics.atu.edu.]]>