Arkansas Tech University is poised to make its move upward in the Great American Conference women’s basketball standings.
ATU (9-7 overall, 6-6 GAC) steadied itself by winning 2-of-3 home games last week after a challenging stretch of four consecutive road games in early January.
As the Golden Suns prepare for contests at East Central University (5:30 p.m. Thursday, Jan. 27) and Southeastern Oklahoma State University (1 p.m. Saturday, Jan. 29), they are tied for sixth place in the GAC standings — but they are just two games behind second-place Harding University (12-5, 8-4). The Lady Bisons must make the same road trip in opposite order (at SOSU Thursday; at ECU Saturday).
“I think our team is excited about getting back on the road,” said Dave Wilbers, ATU head women’s basketball coach. “We’ve been pretty consistent on the road. It seems like every game we’ve played on the road has been a tight game, and I’m sure those will be as well.”
From an Arkansas Tech perspective, there are several reasons for optimism going into the final 10 games of the regular season.
Ashlei Lopez, a unanimous All-GAC first team selection last year and the Golden Suns’ third-leading scorer (14.5 points per game) this season, was working out at Tucker Coliseum before the ATU men’s game on Monday night and appeared ready to return soon from COVID-19 health and safety protocols.
Then there is the remaining schedule. After the ECU-SOSU trip, five of Arkansas Tech’s next seven women’s basketball games will be played at Tucker Coliseum — a place where the Suns have won 89 percent of their games all-time and a building where they are 6-2 this season.
But the greatest reason for optimism is the fact that senior guard Jayana Sanders will not go gentle into that good night famously described by poet Dylan Thomas. She has raged against the proverbial dying of the light by averaging 19 points per contest over her last four games, including a 19-point, 10-rebound, five-assist performance in the Suns’ 65-58 win over Northwestern Oklahoma State University on Saturday.
Sanders, who ranks 17th in school history in scoring (1,432 points), fifth in 3-point field goals made (167) and third in assists (465), is the keeper of a flame that has burned almost continuously during the 45-season history of Golden Suns basketball. After watching her play for five years, I don’t think there’s any way she’s going out without a fight.
While the Golden Suns anticipate the return of Lopez to their line-up, the Arkansas Tech Wonder Boys (6-8, 3-5) are equally excited about re-gaining the talents of Tony Hall and Taelon Peter.
ATU’s men have been without their top two scorers due to COVID-19 health and safety protocols for three consecutive games. During that stretch, freshmen Caden Hale and Isaac Ragland were pushed into larger roles, freshman Cejay Mann’s 3-point shooting prowess became a primary offensive weapon and junior point guard Calvin Allen had to look for his shot like never before in his Arkansas Tech career.
All four responded, as did veterans Kevin Howard, Cameron Kennedy and Niko Gosnell. When Hall and Peter rejoin the cast for a 7:30 pm. contest at East Central tonight, they will be part of an offensive attack that became more dynamic and diversified during their short-term absence.
“That’s what I’ve been trying to tell them…that’s the positive you can pull from this,” said Mark Downey, ATU head men’s basketball coach, after the Wonder Boys’ 81-61 win over ECU on Monday. “We’ll start adding guys back little by little, but other guys are gaining experience. It’s their time to step up and show what they can do. We’ll start adding guys back and hopefully we’ll get this ball rolling in the right direction.”
The Wonder Boys will conclude their Sooner State road trip by visiting Southeastern Oklahoma State at 3 p.m. Saturday and taking on Southern Nazarene University for a make-up game in Bethany at 5:30 p.m. Monday, Jan. 31.
Live coverage of all five ATU games mentioned above will be provided by KCJC 102.3 FM and www.arkansastechsports.com.
Talk to you on the radio.
Tech Tidbits is a column written by Sam Strasner, ATU director of university relations and radio play-by-play voice for ATU football and basketball.