There are few easy wins in college basketball. Then the intensity level and degree of difficulty go up when conference play begins.
And finally there is winning on the road in conference play — the true test of a championship caliber team.
Arkansas Tech, home of the only NCAA member at any level to be undefeated in both men’s and women’s basketball this season, will go on the road in Gulf South Conference play for the first time this season on Saturday night.
The nationally 13th-ranked Golden Suns (15-0 overall, 2-0 GSC) will face the Harding Lady Bisons (8-6, 1-1) at 5:30 p.m. Saturday, while the nationally 2nd-ranked Wonder Boys (15-0, 2-0) will take on the Harding Bisons (8-6, 1-1) at 7:30 p.m.
Both games will be played at Rhodes Field House in Searcy. Russellville radio station KWKK 100.9 FM and www.athletics.atu.edu will have live play-by-play coverage.
Tech’s men scored 45 points off turnovers in an 88-67 victory over Henderson State on Thursday night. The Wonder Boys lead NCAA Division II in turnover margin (+8.9 per game) this season.
Arkansas Tech, which forced 33 turnovers against the Reddies, will try to use its defensive pressure to its advantage again on Saturday. Harding ranks 229th in the nation in turnovers per game. The Bisons give the basketball away an average of 17.6 times per night.
One of Harding’s strengths throughout the season has been its defense. Only one opponent had shot better than 50 percent against the Bisons this season before Thursday, when Southern Arkansas surprised Harding by shooting 60 percent from the field in a 77-59 Muleriders’ victory in Magnolia.
But the Bisons have been a different team at home this season. Buoyed by what is traditionally the best home-court advantage in the GSC, Harding is 6-1 at Rhodes Field House in 2009-10. The Bisons are 2-5 everywhere else.
Harding’s men are led by junior forward Kevin Brown. A first-team All-GSC West Division selection a year ago, Brown is averaging 12.6 points and 6.2 rebounds per game this season.
The Wonder Boys counter with three players averaging double figures in scoring — senior guard Brandon Friedel (16.4 points per game), senior guard Renard Allen (12.3 points per game) and junior forward Jeremy Dunbar (10.5 points per game).
Like the Wonder Boys, the Arkansas Tech Golden Suns will roll into Searcy with a pair of double-digit GSC wins to their credit. Tech’s women have defeated Southern Arkansas 75-52 and Henderson State 73-58.
Harding’s women have faced those same two opponents, but with much more thrilling results.
The Lady Bisons made a free throw with one second left to defeat HSU 76-75 in their league opener last Saturday. Harding was on the other end of a remarkably similar outcome Thursday night when SAU made a free throw with one second left to beat the Lady Bisons 59-58 in Magnolia.
One of Arkansas Tech’s biggest keys to victory over the Lady Bisons will be limiting Harding’s second-chance scoring opportunities. The Lady Bisons average 14 offensive rebounds per game. They had 14 second-chance points in their win over HSU; they only had seven in their loss at SAU.
Harding is led by junior forward Bailey St. Clair. She averages 13.4 points and 6.0 rebounds per game. St. Clair’s 3.31 steals per game lead the GSC and rank 14th in the nation.
Arkansas Tech junior guard Jenny Vining leads the GSC and ranks sixth in the country in scoring with a 21 points per game average. Vining also leads NCAA Division II in 3-point field goals made per game (4.29).
Sophomore forward Natalia Santos (15.1 points and 7.1 rebounds per game) also averages double figures in scoring for the Golden Suns.]]>