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Tech Teams Hope to Impress on Special Day

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Many of the living legends from Arkansas Tech basketball history will be in attendance for the Gulf South Conference doubleheader between Tech and Harding University at Tucker Coliseum on Saturday.

The nationally top-ranked Wonder Boys and the nationally fifth-ranked Golden Suns hope to give them a performance they can be proud of.

Tip-off for the women’s game between Tech (21-1 overall, 8-1 GSC) and the Harding Lady Bisons (11-9, 4-4) is set for 4 p.m.

The men’s contest between the Wonder Boys (22-0, 9-0) and the Bisons (10-10, 3-5) will begin at 6 p.m.

The ticket office and the doors to the coliseum will open at 3 p.m.

Saturday’s doubleheader coincides with the “Centennial Celebration of Tech Basketball,” a special event designed to honor all former coaches, players and other personnel associated with the Tech basketball program.

Those former coaches and players will see the titles they won and the memories they created celebrated by the banners inside Tucker Coliseum.

They will also watch two Arkansas Tech teams that have every intention of adding to that collection of championship banners this season.

Both Tech teams are in sole possession of first place in the GSC West Division. Both the Golden Suns and the Wonder Boys are one game in front of their counterparts from Delta State in the race for the GSC West basketball titles with two weeks remaining in the regular season.

The Suns are seeking their seventh GSC West title, but their first since 2003.

The Wonder Boys have never finished better than third in the GSC West since joining the league in 1995-96. Tech is in search of its first regular season conference title in men’s basketball since winning the final Arkansas Intercollegiate Conference crown in 1994-95.

Arkansas Tech’s men come into Saturday with the third-longest winning streak (22) in the 95-year history of the Wonder Boys basketball program. The only longer strings of consecutive wins in Tech men’s basketball history were a 26-game streak in 1953-54 and a 24-game streak in 1952-53.

But Wonder Boys head coach Mark Downey was clearly troubled by his team’s recent play when he spoke after a 79-69 win over Henderson State --- the last-place team in the GSC West --- on Thursday.

The Wonder Boys were on the ropes until the 1:35 mark of the second half, when senior guard Brandon Friedel made a 3-pointer to give Tech what proved to be a comfortable 74-66 lead.

The close call at Henderson State came on the heels of equally stressful wins over Christian Brothers (52-46 on Feb. 1), Southern Arkansas (79-69 in overtime on Feb. 4) and Arkansas-Monticello (67-65 last Saturday).

“We’ve got to go back to what got us here,” said Downey. “I don’t know if we’ve been preparing ourselves that way individually. We challenged the guys to look in the mirror when they went to bed on Thursday night and to think about what they bring to our team individually. We very well could have lost (the Henderson State game). We’ve got to do better.”

The Golden Suns had their own narrow escape in Arkadelphia on Thursday.

Sophomore forward Katie Horsman forced an extra period by blocking a potentially game-winning shot by Henderson State with 0.8 seconds remaining, and Tech made five free throws in the final 41.8 seconds of overtime to claim a 90-86 victory.

That win allowed the Suns to complete a regular season sweep of the Lady Reddies, and Tech’s women will try for another regular season sweep when they host Harding.

The Suns had perhaps their best offensive performance of the season in a 95-68 win over the Lady Bisons in Searcy on Jan. 16. All five Tech starters reached double figures in scoring and the Suns shot 58 percent from the field.

“I know it will be a closer game than the first time because (Harding) is playing a lot better now,” said Tech women’s basketball head coach Dave Wilbers. “Bailey St. Clair and Stacey Owens are two of the best players in our conference. They are really hard to guard, and they’re playing with a lot of confidence right now. Hopefully we can sell Tucker Coliseum out on Saturday because it’s going to be a special day with having all the Golden Suns and Wonder Boys back on campus.”

Harding should be plenty rested when it arrives in Russellville on Saturday. Neither the Bisons or the Lady Bisons have played since Feb. 4, when they swept a doubleheader at Henderson State.

Both Harding teams are fighting for their postseason lives. The Bisons are in sixth place in the GSC West men’s standings, but they are just a game-and-a-half out of third place. The Lady Bisons are in fourth place in the GSC West women’s standings.

Only the top four teams in the final men’s and women’s GSC West standings will advance to the GSC Tournament March 4-7 in Southaven, Miss.

The Wonder Boys defeated Harding 82-71 in their meeting at Searcy last month. Friedel scored 21 points for Tech and the Wonder Boys out-rebounded the Bisons 43-35. Tech finished with a 26-12 advantage in second-chance points.

Both of Saturday’s games will be broadcast on Russellville radio station KWKK 100.9 FM. The broadcast will be streamed over the Internet at www.athletics.atu.edu.

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