Suns Return to Site of Past Glory Saturday

Aside from Russellville, no locale has been the site of more historic and memorable Arkansas Tech Golden Suns basketball moments than Jackson, Tenn. Arkansas Tech will play a women’s basketball game in Jackson for the first time in more than 13 years on Saturday when the nationally fifth-ranked Golden Suns (6-1) take on the Lambuth University Lady Eagles (1-5) at Pepper Bray Court. Tip-off is set for 2 p.m. The game will be broadcast in the Arkansas River Valley by radio station KWKK 100.9 FM.

Click here to access an Internet stream of the broadcast.

From 1992-97, Arkansas Tech appeared in six consecutive NAIA National Tournaments at Oman Arena in Jackson, Tenn.

The Golden Suns became a fan favorite in Jackson while winning back-to-back NAIA national championships in 1992 and 1993, reaching the NAIA quarterfinals in 1994 and making one last appearance in the NAIA semifinals in 1997.

It wasn’t just that the Golden Suns won a lot in Jackson — and they did, compiling an all-time record of 19-6 within the city limits. It was how they did it.

There was the dominating run to the championship in 1992 that saw the Suns set NAIA National Tournament records for field goal percentage (59.5 percent) and 3-point field goals made (31) while vanquishing their five opponents by an average margin of 24 points per game.

There was Carin Pinion’s layup and Dawn Grell’s deflection to secure a second straight national title in 1993 with a 76-75 victory over home-standing Union University in front of 6,515 fans.

There was the goodbye to the most successful senior class in Arkansas Tech women’s basketball history — All-Americans Pinion, Grell, Stephanie Strack and Alison Setliff along with post players Becky Nagel and Laverne Fife — at the 1994 NAIA National Tournament.

And then there was one of the most improbable wins in Golden Suns’ history.

It came in the 1997 NAIA National Tournament quarterfinals when Jennifer Richardson grabbed a defensive rebound with five seconds remaining and Tech trailing Wayland Baptist 59-57. She raced the length of the floor, made the tying layup as time expired, was fouled and made the winning free throw with no time on the clock to give the Suns their sixth and final berth in the NAIA semifinals.

Arkansas Tech moved to full NCAA Division II status the next year, and the Golden Suns haven’t had occasion to revisit the place where they won their national championships since.

Saturday will mark the Suns’ return to Jackson, and they will arrive in town with a chance to sweep the 2010-11 season series from Lambuth.

Tech defeated the Lady Eagles 107-60 in Russellville on Nov. 20. Four Golden Suns reached double figures in scoring, led by Natalia Santos with 22 points.

Santos, a junior forward from Sao Paulo, Brazil, leads the Gulf South Conference in scoring at 21.1 points per game. She is the third-most accurate field goal shooter in the GSC this season (.606).

Arkansas Tech’s Jenny Vining, a senior guard from Marshall, ranks fifth in the GSC in scoring (18.0 points per game), fifth in field goal percentage (.557), sixth in assists (4.1 per game), fourth in steals (2.9 per game), fourth in 3-point field goal percentage (.526) and first in 3-point field goals made (4.3 per game).

Senior guard Laura Beth Anderson of Springdale and sophomore forward Jessica Weatherford of Bonnerdale are the top two free throw shooters in the league — they’ve combined to make 47 of their first 50 attempts from the free throw line in 2010-11.

Anderson is second in the GSC in assists (5.9 per game), sixth in steals (2.7 per game) and second in assist-to-turnover ratio (2.3-to-1).

The only GSC player with a better assist-to-turnover ratio than Anderson is her teammate — freshman guard Shanae Govan (3.1-to-1).

Add in senior guard Shaquilah Davis’ 3.4 steals per game — second-best in the GSC — and the Golden Suns are well represented among the Gulf South Conference leaders.

Arkansas Tech will be playing its first game since defeating St. Edward’s University 80-57 at Tucker Coliseum in Russellville last Saturday.

“We’ve worked on our defense a lot in practice,” said Tech head coach Dave Wilbers of his team’s preparation during the break from game action. “We have focused on the fundamentals of being in the proper position, blocking off and finishing plays. I think we’ve gotten better. There’s still room to improve. I know our man-to-man defense has gotten a lot better.”

Lambuth has also been idle for a week. The Lady Eagles dropped an 82-56 decision to Harding University in their most recent outing.

Freshman forward Sarah Collins leads Lambuth in scoring (18.0 points per game) and rebounding (9.0 per game).