All of that winter weather this week created more than a few headaches for residents of the Arkansas River Valley, but it could not have come at a better time for the Arkansas Tech basketball teams.
Refreshed from two days of extra rest, the nationally top-ranked Wonder Boys (21-0 overall, 8-0 Gulf South Conference) and the nationally fifth-ranked Golden Suns (20-1, 7-1) will head to Arkadelphia on Thursday for a GSC doubleheader against Henderson State.
The women’s game is set for a 6 p.m. start, while the men will tip-off at 8 p.m. Both games will be carried live on Russellville radio station KWKK 100.9 FM and over the Internet at www.athletics.atu.edu.
Both Arkansas Tech teams were a little weary last Saturday night after playing three games apiece during a six-day stretch. Two of those three games required road trips of three hours or more.
Then came the surprisingly large snowfall that blanketed Russellville on Sunday night and Monday, leading to two days of cancelled classes on the Tech campus.
Arkansas Tech head men’s basketball coach Mark Downey, who has led the Wonder Boys to 44 wins in their last 53 games, said that the combination of extra sleep and extra time at the gym this week could help his team’s mental and physical fitness level down the road.
“I hope it helps us in the long run,” said Downey. “We needed it. We had three tough games in a week, and that gave us a little taste of what postseason basketball will be like. We had a great practice on Tuesday, but we weren’t there mentally on Wednesday as we got back into a normal routine. As a coach, I’m worried about how we start the game (at HSU).”
Arkansas Tech is one of two undefeated teams remaining in NCAA Division II men’s basketball. The Wonder Boys are ranked No. 1 in the NCAA Division II South Region poll and they are in sole possession of first place in the GSC West Division.
Tech defeated Henderson State 88-67 in Russellville back on Jan. 14. The Wonder Boys placed five players in double figures in scoring and had a plus-24 turnover margin as they cruised to victory over the Reddies.
All of that might lead the casual observer to believe that Thursday night’s game at Henderson State will be a walk-over. The Reddies are 7-14 overall, 0-8 in league play and in the throes of an eight-game losing streak.
However, a closer look at the facts reveals that Henderson State might provide Arkansas Tech with a serious threat to its undefeated season and No. 1 ranking.
The Reddies are 7-5 at home this season, and three of their losses at the Duke Wells Center have been to GSC West contenders Delta State, Arkansas-Monticello and Southern Arkansas.
All three of those games were decided by four points or less.
“We’ve got to play better than we did against (Henderson State) the first time,” said Downey. “I really think our press bailed us out that night. The road is the road, especially late in the year during the second half of conference play. It’s not going to be an easy game.”
Bonus rest was not a bad thing for the Golden Suns either, said head coach Dave Wilbers.
“We had a chance to watch a lot of tape, do a lot of practicing and review the last week,” said Wilbers. “I know our players probably slept in a little bit. We always like to be in school and be in that normal routine, but a chance to sleep in and really just think about basketball for three or four straight days was good too.”
Tech’s women bring their highest national ranking in nearly seven years into Thursday’s game at Henderson State. The Golden Suns are in sole possession of first place in the GSC West and ranked second in the NCAA Division II South Region.
The Henderson State Lady Reddies (13-10, 4-4) are on the GSC Tournament bubble with six games remaining in the regular season.
Henderson State is tied for fourth place in the GSC West, and only the top four teams in the final division standings will go to the GSC Tournament March 4-7 in Southaven, Miss.
The Golden Suns defeated the Lady Reddies 73-58 on Jan. 14. Tech outscored HSU 28-16 in points off turnovers. Natalia Santos and Jenny Vining had 21 points apiece for the Suns.
Henderson State’s women are 9-2 at home this season, including a 68-55 win over Delta State on Jan. 30.
“We’ve got to limit (Henderson State’s) 3-point shots,” said Wilbers. “When they make 3s at home, they are really a good team. I thought we played really well against them the last time, and one reason was the turnovers. We’ve got to have a good, balanced attack.
“We’re down to six games over 16 days left in the regular season,” continued Wilbers. “The conference title is right out there in front of us, but we’ve got to take care of business on the road.”]]>