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One Last Time: Suns, DSU Meet Saturday

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To quote the old Rolling Stones song: “This could be the last time, maybe the last time, I don’t know.” The greatest rivalry in NCAA Division II women’s basketball will continue on Saturday, Feb. 19, when the nationally fifth-ranked Arkansas Tech Golden Suns (21-2 overall, 10-1 Gulf South Conference) host the nationally third-ranked Delta State Lady Statesmen (22-1, 10-1) with first place in the GSC West Division on the line. Tip-off is set for 4 p.m. at Tucker Coliseum in Russellville. The coliseum ticket office will open at 3 p.m. Those with a valid Tech identification card will be admitted free. The game will be the final regular season GSC meeting between the two programs. Arkansas Tech will move on to the new NCAA Division II Great American Conference next season. And while it is possible --- perhaps even probable --- that they will see each other again in the 2011 GSC Tournament and the 2011 NCAA Division II South Regional, Saturday’s game is the last time ever that the two winningest programs in NCAA Division II women’s basketball history are guaranteed of meeting. “I think both of our programs do the right things on the court and off the court,” said Arkansas Tech head coach Dave Wilbers when asked about the Golden Suns-Lady Statesmen rivalry. “Both of our programs have good student-athletes and excellent basketball players. I think both of us do a good job improving our players in individual workouts and in the weight room. We’re a mirror of each other in many ways. It’s been a great rivalry with a lot of tradition. It’s always a fun game for a coach or a player. I probably don’t have to do much motivation when we play Delta State.” Saturday’s contest will be the second game between the Lady Statesmen and the Golden Suns this season. Delta State defeated Arkansas Tech 68-58 at Walter Sillers Coliseum in Cleveland, Miss., on Jan. 22. The Lady Statesmen won the game by creating extra possessions. Delta State was plus-10 in rebound margin and plus-6 in turnover margin.  This time the scene shifts to Tucker Coliseum in Russellville. Arkansas Tech has won 31 consecutive games under its dome, including a regular season victory (56-47) and a win in the NCAA Division II South Region title game (73-62) over Delta State last season. The Golden Suns’ last loss at home was a 73-60 setback against the Lady Statesmen on Feb. 21, 2009. Since then, Tech has put together the third-longest home winning streak in the history of its women’s basketball program. “(Tucker Coliseum) is a hard arena for an opposing team to shoot in,” said Wilbers. “There aren’t very many arenas in the Gulf South Conference like ours, and visiting teams seem like they struggle shooting the basketball at Tucker Coliseum. We practice there every day, so we have a great deal of comfort there.” Arkansas Tech’s projected starting line-up for Saturday consists of senior point guard Laura Beth Anderson (8.0 points, 5.7 assists per game), senior All-America guard Jenny Vining (14.4 points. 3.6 assists per game), senior guard Shaquilah Davis (7.7 points, 3.9 rebounds per game), junior all-region forward Natalia Santos (17.7 points, 7.8 rebounds per game) and sophomore forward Jessica Weatherford (12.8 points, 7.0 rebounds per game). Delta State is expected to start senior All-America point guard Bug Cooper (8.3 points, 9.3 assists per game), senior guard Sheena Johnson (10.7 points per game), senior all-conference guard Moe Bell (9.2 points per game), junior All-America center Veronica Walker (17.9 points, 9.7 rebounds per game) and senior forward Shameka Russell (7.6 points per game). “I think games like this come down to who is going to make the big plays and who is going to make fewer turnovers and mistakes,” said Wilbers. “I think your best players have to step up and make plays in games like this. The stars have to come out.” Saturday’s game will be broadcast in the Arkansas River Valley by KWKK 100.9 FM. There will be live video and live audio feeds from the game available at www.athletics.atu.edu.

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