I’ll admit it. When I first looked at the 2023-24 Arkansas Tech University women’s basketball roster, I wasn’t sure how the Golden Suns were going to score.
After all, 57 percent of their offensive production from the 2022-23 season was gone, most notably graduated all-conference performers Jalei Oglesby (20.6 points per game in 2022-23) and Kaley Shipman (12.8 points per game in 2022-23 and 1,392 career points).
There were several things I didn’t know.
I didn’t know how much work the returnees had put in, and thus how much they appear to have improved since last year.
That improvement was evident in the opening-night performance of players such as sophomore guard Hayleigh Wyrick, who scored a career-high 19 points and was 4-of-7 from 3-point range, and junior guard ClaraGrace Prater, who contributed 11 points. If those two play all season long with the level of confidence they displayed on Saturday night, everything’s going to be alright.
I didn’t know how college ready Pacious McDaniel was.
The freshman from Springdale, who averaged 22.7 points per game and was all-state at Har-Ber High School last season, didn’t play like a freshman on Saturday. She had 19 points, eight rebounds, three assists and three steals as part of an 89-61 ATU victory over Champion Christian College.
“Even when we started our preseason work, we did a good job sharing the basketball and looking for each other,” said Dave Wilbers, ATU head women’s basketball coach. “I like the way everybody’s running the floor with their heads up and making the extra pass to get a better shot.”
The Golden Suns’ level of competition will increase dramatically when they host Pittsburg State University (Kan.) for a 5:30 p.m. non-conference contest at Tucker Coliseum on Thursday, Nov. 16.
The Gorillas were 23-8 and reached the second round of the NCAA Division II Tournament last season. This season, Pitt State (2-0) has registered double-digit wins over Great American Conference members Oklahoma Baptist University and Southwestern Oklahoma State University.
One end of the floor in particular has been a point of emphasis for ATU in preparation for the Gorillas.
“We have to get a lot better defensively,” said Wilbers. “Our post defense has to get better. I thought we did a better job of challenging 3-point shots. We have to get out of just being there with a hand in their face. We have to really challenge the other team’s shooters.”
It will be a doubleheader at Tucker Coliseum on Thursday night. The Arkansas Tech Wonder Boys (0-2) will entertain the Drury University Panthers (3-0) for a 7:30 p.m. non-conference contest.
ATU’s men faced two of the top three teams in the preseason Mid-America Intercollegiate Athletics Association poll during a season-opening trip to Kansas last weekend. The Wonder Boys fell to nationally 20th-ranked Emporia State University 86-76 on Friday and Fort Hays State University (which received votes in the preseason national poll) 66-52 on Saturday.
I didn’t see anything to dissuade me from the prevailing school of thought that Arkansas Tech will be in the upper echelon of GAC men’s basketball this season. The Wonder Boys just need time to gel and get fully healthy.
Both ATU teams could also benefit from a home court advantage on Thursday night. You can help provide that. Tickets are available at www.arkansastechsports.com/tickets. Admission will be free for ATU faculty, staff and students.
If you can’t make it, we’ll have live coverage on KCJC 102.3 FM, www.arkansastechsports.com and the EAB Media Group app.
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.