Tech-DSU Rivalry Reaches New Level Tuesday

Arkansas Tech and Delta State have staged many epic battles for the Gulf South Conference West Division women’s basketball regular season title over the past 15 years. The two storied programs have crossed paths in the GSC Tournament championship game on seven occasions since 1999. The Golden Suns and the Lady Statesmen even have two previous encounters in the NCAA Division II Tournament. But never before have Arkansas Tech and Delta State competed against each other for a prize as large as the one that will be at stake on Tuesday night. The nationally fourth-ranked Golden Suns (30-2) will host the nationally eighth-ranked Lady Statesmen (27-3) at 6 p.m. Tuesday in the 2010 NCAA Division II Tournament South Regional championship game at Tucker Coliseum in Russellville.  The winner will advance to the NCAA Division II Elite Eight March 23-26 in St. Joseph, Mo. “It really is an honor, and a deserving honor to be here,” said Tech head coach Dave Wilbers. “We’ve had an outstanding season from our non-conference to our conference and on through our conference tournament. It’s a reward to get this far and play for a region championship, but we’re really focused in on the game itself right now. It’s what March Madness is all about.”

The Tucker Coliseum ticket office will open at 4:30 p.m. Tuesday. Tickets are $8 for adults and $5 for students and those age 60 or older.

Russellville radio station KWKK 100.9 FM will have live play-by-play coverage. Click here to access an Internet stream of the broadcast.

The rivalry between the winningest D-II women’s program (Delta State, 980 wins) and the third-winningest D-II women’s program (Arkansas Tech, 818 wins) saw one of its greatest games little more than a week ago when the Golden Suns defeated the Lady Statesmen 75-73 in double overtime to win the GSC Tournament title. It was Arkansas Tech’s first win against Delta State in the GSC Tournament championship game in seven tries, and it improved the Suns’ record against DSU to 2-1 this season. The Golden Suns were able to dominate the paint in a manner rarely seen against the Lady Statesmen. Tech post players Natalia Santos (28 points) and Jessica Weatherford (26 points) were a combined 22-of-39 from the field in the victory. “Our post defense was non-existent,” said Delta State head coach Sandra Rushing in an interview with the Clarion Ledger newspaper in Jackson, Miss. “It’s been that way all year. In the postseason, you can’t hide your weaknesses.” One reason Santos and Weatherford were able to control the lane was Delta State’s foul trouble. Veronica Walker and Shameka Russell — the Lady Statesmen’s top two posts — both fouled out in the first overtime. “We do a good job of getting the basketball to our posts, and both of our posts are very physical,” said Wilbers. “We were very fortunate to get (Walker) into foul trouble in Southaven. She’s one of the best post players in the country. She could play on any level. We’ll stick with our inside-outside attack and try to get some baskets in a variety of ways.” The Arkansas Tech win in the GSC Tournament final snapped a string of four consecutive GSC Tournament titles for the Lady Statesmen. Now, the Golden Suns want to take the region title away from two-time defending NCAA South Region champion Delta State. This will mark the third meeting between these two programs in the NCAA Tournament. The two sides had their first meeting in the big dance on March 9, 2001, at Walter Sillers Coliseum in Cleveland, Miss.
Home-standing Delta State got 25 points from Caroline Boclair as it defeated Arkansas Tech 67-62 in the regional semifinals. They met again in the NCAA Tournament second round on March 10, 2007, at Alico Arena in Fort Myers, Fla.

The Golden Suns led 35-34 after a Lauren Dennis layup with 3:24 remaining, but Delta State All-America guard Jennifer Rushing took over from there. Rushing scored six points over the final 2:52 to lead the Lady Statesmen to a 43-40 win.

On Tuesday, Arkansas Tech can obtain a measure of revenge for those agonizingly close losses and earn its third trip to the NCAA Elite Eight.

And despite their NCAA heartbreaks of the past against Delta State, there is one bit of largely forgotten history in the Golden Suns’ corner on Tuesday night.

Long before Arkansas Tech began sponsoring women’s athletics as official intercollegiate sports in 1977, women’s basketball teams from the school competed in the Amateur Athletic Union (AAU).

Fifty-five years ago, an Arkansas Tech AAU team coached by Margaret Wilson and led by all-state performers Jean Sanders and Liz Parker won the 1955 Arkansas AAU state championship.

Their reward for that state title was a trip to the AAU National Tournament.

The location of that event in 1955?

St. Joseph, Mo., the same community that will host the NCAA Elite Eight next week.