Suns, Griffons Set to Meet in NCAA 1st Round

It has been almost three months since the Arkansas Tech University women’s basketball team has been defeated in regulation.

The nationally 12th-ranked Golden Suns (26-3), regular season and postseason champions of the Great American Conference, will put that streak on the line against the nationally 10th-ranked Missouri Western State University Golden Griffons (27-3) in the first round of the 2016 NCAA Division II Tournament Central Regional on Friday, March 11.

Tip-off is scheduled for 8:30 p.m. at John Lance Arena in Pittsburg, Kan. Radio station KCJC 102.3 FM and will have live coverage.

It was another team from Missouri — the Drury University Lady Panthers — that handed Arkansas Tech a 71-64 setback at the O’Reilly Family Event center in Springfield, Mo., on Dec. 15.

Since then, the Golden Suns have won 20 of 21 games. Their only loss during that span was an 82-79 double overtime defeat at Harding University on Feb. 15.

Arkansas Tech head coach Dave Wilbers has reason to believe that his team is now ready to not only compete with the best in the nation, but perhaps beat the best in the nation.

“We’ve gotten a lot better,” said Wilbers. “We have more scorers. I think with Kelsey (McClure) stepping up, that gives us another person coming off the bench. Anna Lea (Little) played really well in the conference tournament final, too. That Drury game was one that came down to two or three possessions. If we would’ve made a couple of plays, we probably would have won that game. We learned from it and grew from it. This team keeps practicing and keeps getting better. I’m very happy with them.”

The ninth-year head coach thinks that improvement was necessary in order to prepare for what the Golden Suns will face in the NCAA Division II Tournament Central Regional.

“This will be the toughest regional in the nation,” said Wilbers. “It will be tougher than the Elite Eight is what I tell people. You can throw away the seeds and play basketball.”

Missouri Western won the Mid-America Intercollegiate Athletics Association regular season championship. Emporia State University eliminated the Golden Griffons from the MIAA Tournament 85-74 in the semifinal round on Saturday.

Arkansas Tech and Missouri Western have startlingly similar statistics. Both teams rank in the top six in scoring offense among all NCAA Division II teams this season. Additionally, both sides rank among the top four teams nationally in field goal percentage and the top nine in 3-point field goal percentage.

Both the Golden Suns and the Golden Griffons feature one of the top players in all of NCAA Division II. Arkansas Tech’s Fatima Adams ranks second in the nation in scoring (22.5 points per game), while MWSU’s Laquinta Jefferson is seventh nationally in scoring (21 points per game).

Adams was named most valuable player of the GAC Tournament after averaging 29.3 points per game during the Golden Suns’ three-game run to the title last weekend in Bartlesville, Okla.

She scored a career-high 43 points in Tech’s GAC Tournament semifinal win over Southern Arkansas University.  Adams joined Donna Brunson, Lanell Dawson and Jenny Vining as the only Arkansas Tech women’s players to ever score 40 or more points in a game.

Adams’ 43-point game is the third-highest single-game total by a Golden Sun, and the highest since Dawson scored 45 points against Oklahoma City University on Nov. 25, 1989. The single-game women’s school record of 51 points was set by Brunson against the University of Arkansas-Monticello in the 1988 NAIA District 17 championship game.

Missouri Western’s Jefferson was limited to nine points per game during the MIAA Tournament. A report this week in the St. Joseph News-Press indicates that Jefferson is battling a sore knee entering the NCAA Tournament.

Other first-round games at Pittsburg, Kan., on Friday will pit No. 4 seed Winona State University (29-3) against No. 5 seed Fort Hays State University (25-5) at noon, top-seeded Emporia State (26-5) against eighth-seeded Northern State University (23-7) at 2:30 p.m. and No. 2 seed Pittsburg State University (26-5) against No. 7 seed University of Sioux Falls (27-5) at 6 p.m.

Pitt State is hosting the regional as a No. 2 seed because of a scheduling conflict at Emporia State’s home arena.

The regional semifinals are scheduled for 5 p.m. and 7:30 p.m. on Saturday, March 12, and the regional championship game is set for 7 p.m. on Monday, March 14. The region champion will advance to the NCAA Elite Eight, which will begin with the national quarterfinals on Tuesday, March 22.