If the measure of a basketball team is how it responds to adversity, the 2022-23 Arkansas Tech Golden Suns are going to be just fine.
Less than 48 hours after a 77-70 overtime loss to Southern Nazarene University, the Golden Suns bounced back on Saturday and put together perhaps their best performance of the season in a 76-50 dismantling of an Oklahoma Baptist team that entered the week unbeaten in Great American Conference play.
“I thought our team did a great job of getting into the interior of (Oklahoma Baptist’s) zone (defense),” said Dave Wilbers, ATU head women’s basketball coach. “It’s really easy to settle for jump shots and 3-pointers, but we did a good job of reversing the ball, getting them off balance, driving into the interior and getting a better shot. We were very physical. It’s probably the most physical we’ve been all year. It was definitely our best defensive effort of the year so far.”
As a result, Arkansas Tech’s women (8-4 overall, 6-2 GAC) are within one game of first place in the GAC standings. The Golden Suns will visit the University of Arkansas-Monticello for a 5:30 p.m. game at Steelman Fieldhouse on Thursday, Jan. 19, before returning to Tucker Coliseum to host Ouachita Baptist University for a 1 p.m. contest on Saturday, Jan. 21, and Harding University for a 5:30 p.m. contest on Monday, Jan. 23.
“Our team has been really good on the road with a good focus,” said Wilbers. “They like the challenge on the road. Walking into Monticello’s gym is a challenge. (UAM) plays well there and it will be another difficult game.”
ATU head men’s basketball coach Mark Downey knows all about Steelman Fieldhouse. It was there that his nationally top-ranked Wonder Boys suffered their first loss of the season in game No. 26 of the 2009-10 season.
Downey is one of only four Arkansas Tech head men’s basketball coaches to accumulate 100 or more wins, and when you consider the totality of his head coaching career, he has won 268 games and guided four teams to the NCAA Division II Tournament.
Steelman Fieldhouse is on the short list of puzzles he has yet to solve. When the Wonder Boys (8-6, 6-2) arrive in Monticello for a 7:30 p.m. game against the UAM Boll Weevils on Thursday, it will be Downey’s eighth visit to the facility and his eighth try to earn his first win there.
Arkansas Tech is, without question, playing defense well enough to get the job done. The Wonder Boys rank top two in the GAC in scoring defense (64.1 points allowed per game) and field goal percentage defense (.405). They are doing it with a combination of full-court and half-court pressure defense.
“We’ve wanted to establish our stingy, half-court man-to-man defense,” said Downey. “That’s what I’ve always been about. The pressure’s just come along. It’s been game-by-game. We don’t normally press like that all the time, but lately we’ve gotten into situations where we’ve found out we can put some pressure on people, trap them and cause them to turn it over with our length.”
ATU’s men will host Ouachita Baptist at 3 p.m. Saturday, Jan. 21, and Harding at 7:30 p.m. Monday, Jan. 23, at Tucker Coliseum.
Saturday’s doubleheader will coincide with Hometown Heroes Day at the coliseum. All local first responders and military-affiliated personnel will receive free admission.
Live coverage of ATU’s games against UAM, Ouachita and Harding will be available on 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.