I was making my way through a pleasant fall afternoon last October when my tasks took me to Tucker Coliseum.
Dave Wilbers, Arkansas Tech University head women’s basketball coach since 2007, stood on the arena floor while the Golden Suns practiced.
I…happy, clueless and looking forward to a promising season…shuffled over to exchange a few pleasantries with Coach Wilbers.
The news he delivered soon had me doubled over in disbelief. Guards Jalei Oglesby and Trelynn Tyler were out for the season with injury. Promising freshman Alex Hill was out with injury at the time and was unable to join the active roster until December.
It turns out that was just the beginning. Starting post player Sydnee Wynn suffered a season-ending injury the first week in December and just as the Golden Suns were trying to assemble a late-season push, third-leading scorer Ashlei Lopez went down with a season-ending injury.
Half of the rotation Wilbers was counting on for the 2021-22 season was gone. Following an 85-57 home loss to Henderson State University on the penultimate day of the regular season, Arkansas Tech’s hopes for a 16th consecutive postseason berth in women’s basketball were fading.
Just a few hours after that Friday night loss to HSU, the Golden Suns boarded a bus and traveled three-and-a-half hours to Magnolia to face a Southern Arkansas University team that presses for 40 minutes and was on a two-game winning streak.
With its season on the line, Arkansas Tech came through with an 80-65 victory that earned it a place in the Great American Conference Tournament.
“It was probably as good a victory as we’ve had in a long time,” said Wilbers after the SAU game on Saturday. “It took a lot of guts out here, and we played flawless basketball today. This was one of the toughest games and one of the toughest situations we’ve been in during the last three or four years.”
Facing the relentless SAU pressure and running on fumes, the Golden Suns committed just five turnovers in the second half.
“It won the game for us,” said Wilbers.
Arkansas Tech (14-12) enters the GAC Tournament as the No. 7 seed, the same position it was in for the league’s postseason tournament in 2019 and 2020. The Golden Suns won their first-round game as a No. 7 seed in 2020 and made it all the way to the finals from that position in 2019.
No. 2 seed Southern Nazarene (20-9) will be Arkansas Tech’s first-round opponent at FireLake Arena in Shawnee, Okla., on Thursday, March 3. Tip-off is scheduled for 2:15 p.m.
The Golden Suns and the Crimson Storm split their regular season series. ATU played perhaps its best game of the season in an 80-52 win at SNU on Jan. 6. Southern Nazarene went on a late 6-0 spurt to defeat the Suns 59-56 in Russellville on Feb. 12.
The winner of the rubber match will advance to the GAC Tournament semifinals at 8 p.m. Saturday, March 5. The championship game is scheduled for 3:30 p.m. Sunday, March 6.
“Some years we have enough that we can win a conference championship and go to regionals, and a few years we went to the NCAA Elite Eight,” said Wilbers. “Some years it’s a battle to make the GAC Tournament and make a run in the GAC Tournament. We can do that with this basketball team. If we play ball like we did (at SAU), we can play with anybody.”
KCJC 102.3 FM and www.arkansastechsports.com will provide live coverage of all Arkansas Tech games from the GAC Tournament.
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.