Tech Tidbits: Finish Line Near for Hoops Regular Season

Cejay Mann and Ashlei Lopez February 2021
Cejay Mann (11.9 points per game) and Ashlei Lopez (16.6 points per game) are the leading scorers for Arkansas Tech's basketball teams with one week remaining in the 2021 regular season.

With apologies to the Grateful Dead, what a short, strange trip it’s been.

The pandemic-shortened and compressed Arkansas Tech University regular season basketball schedule — which originally called for 43 contests over a span of 58 days before COVID-19 protocols and winter weather forced several cancellations — will finish with a flourish over the next week.

Arkansas Tech will hit the road for Great American Conference doubleheaders at Henderson State University (2 and 4 p.m. Saturday), Harding University (5:30 and 7:30 p.m. Monday) and Southern Arkansas University (5:30 and 7:30 p.m. Thursday) before returning to Tucker Coliseum for a regular season-ending twin bill against Ouachita Baptist University at 2 and 4 p.m. Saturday, Feb. 27.

Live coverage of all eight games is planned for KCJC 102.3 FM and Per GAC return to play protocols, in-person attendance is limited to a guest list of family and friends for each student-athlete and coach affiliated with the home team.

The Golden Suns (10-0 overall, 9-0 GAC) are 10-0 for the first time since 2009-10 and for just the sixth time in the 44-year history of ATU’s intercollegiate women’s basketball program.

Arkansas Tech holds a three-and-a-half game lead over Harding for first place in the GAC Eastern Division women’s basketball standings with four games remaining. One more ATU win or one more Lady Bisons’ loss would give the Golden Suns their 26th regular season conference championship.

When presented with data on everything his 2021 team has achieved, Golden Suns head coach Dave Wilbers remained true to the one day at a time philosophy that has helped him win 77 percent of the games he has coached over 14 seasons at Arkansas Tech.

“It is truly a day-by-day process of showing up at the gym,” said Wilbers. “It’s about the struggle of making it to practice and ensuring that everyone is staying healthy the best that we can. This team is a very even-keeled team, and I think that’s helped us through all these situations. They don’t get too high or too low, and I think that’s been a big positive for us this year.”

The Wonder Boys (6-7, 4-7) are trying to regain the form that allowed them to win 3-of-4 games during a stretch in mid-to-late January. Turnovers and poor free throw shooting have contributed to four Arkansas Tech losses in five games since the team returned from a 10-day COVID-19 interruption on Feb. 4.

For ATU’s men, the final week of the regular season will be about getting the best possible seed in the GAC Tournament, which is scheduled to begin March 1.

The Wonder Boys are in fourth place in the GAC Eastern Division standings. Finishing in third or fourth place would allow ATU’s men to host a first-round game in the league tournament.

“We’re just not committed to winning,” said Mark Downey, Arkansas Tech head men’s basketball coach, following a 61-58 loss to Southern Arkansas on Saturday. “Guys not being focused on the scouting report, not taking free throws seriously in practice…that has to change, and that’s on me. We had some guys respond (against SAU), and that’s nice to see. When we get that from everybody, this team has a chance to be pretty decent.”

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.