When Arkansas Tech University joined the Great American Conference, many wondered which team could replace Delta State University as the Golden Suns’ top basketball rival.
It’s early, but Southwestern Oklahoma State has certainly thrown its hat into that ring.
The first-place Southwestern Oklahoma State Bulldogs (13-7 overall, 8-2 GAC) will visit the nationally 13th-ranked Arkansas Tech Golden Suns (15-3, 6-3) for a key GAC women’s basketball match-up at Tucker Coliseum in Russellville at 5:30 p.m. on Thursday, Feb. 9.
Promotional ticket prices of $5 for adults and $3 for students and senior citizens will be in effect. Tickets will be available at the door. Those with a valid Arkansas Tech identification card will be admitted free of charge.
The Golden Suns were undefeated and ranked No. 1 in the nation when they visited Southwestern Oklahoma State on Jan. 12. The Bulldogs took both of those distinctions away from Arkansas Tech by making 10-of-19 3-point attempts in the first half on their way to an 85-82 win over the Golden Suns.
Arkansas Tech went on to suffer a second consecutive loss at East Central University less than 48 hours later, but the Golden Suns have since recovered. Six wins in their last seven games have kept the Suns in the GAC title hunt and under consideration for an at-large berth in the NCAA Division II Tournament.
“We have improved in a lot of ways since that Oklahoma trip, and I think one of the ways is that we are rebounding the basketball a lot better,” said Golden Suns head coach Dave Wilbers. “We’re making a better effort to get every rebound, especially on the defensive end. I also think we are a better free throw shooting team, we just need to get to the line more. There are still areas we need to improve on. We need to cut down on our turnovers, but I feel like we have gotten better over the last couple of weeks.”
That Southwestern Oklahoma State win over Arkansas Tech last month rekindled a women’s basketball rivalry that burned brightly when both schools were members of the NAIA.
The two programs combined to win 7-of-12 NAIA women’s basketball national championships between 1982 and 1993. The Bulldogs won the national title in 1982, 1983, 1985, 1987 and 1990. The Golden Suns earned the national crown in 1992 and 1993.
Southwestern Oklahoma State made 10 trips to the NAIA national semifinals, while Arkansas Tech reached the semis on six occasions.
They met in the NAIA National Tournament twice. The Bulldogs topped the Golden Suns 70-68 in the 1987 semifinals. Arkansas Tech returned the favor with a 64-44 triumph in the 1992 semifinals.
When Tech and SWOSU were eliminated from the 1997 NAIA National Tournament semifinals, it closed the door on an era. Both programs moved on to NCAA Division II status, and their annual treks to the NAIA postseason party in Jackson, Tenn., became a part of history.
Now the Golden Suns and the Bulldogs have been reunited under the GAC banner, and they feature two of the top five scoring offenses in NCAA Division II women’s basketball.
Arkansas Tech leads the conference and ranks third in the nation in scoring offense (81.6 points per game), while Southwestern Oklahoma State ranks second in the GAC and fifth in the nation in that category (79.3 points per game).
“Southwestern is a great offensive team,” said Wilbers. “They shoot the basketball really well, and they put five players on the floor that can all score. It could be a high-scoring game. They do a good job of running their dribble-drive system. The back side of our defense has to do a great job.”
Radio station KWKK 100.9 FM will have the broadcast of Thursday’s game. Live video and audio feeds will be available at www.athletics.atu.edu.]]>