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Tech, UAM Meet Under the Dome Saturday

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The last time Arkansas Tech played at Tucker Coliseum, a record crowd of 4,122 fans created a landmark night for the university and one of the best basketball atmospheres that the Russellville area has ever seen. 

What will the Arkansas River Valley do for an encore when the nationally top-ranked Wonder Boys and the nationally seventh-ranked Golden Suns return home for the first time in two weeks on Saturday?

Tip-off for the women’s game between the Arkansas Tech Golden Suns (19-1 overall, 6-1 Gulf South Conference) and the University of Arkansas-Monticello Cotton Blossoms (9-10, 3-4) is set for 4 p.m. Saturday.
 
The men’s contest between the nationally top-ranked Wonder Boys (20-0, 7-0) and the UAM Boll Weevils (10-7, 5-2) will begin at 6 p.m.
 
The ticket office and the doors at Tucker Coliseum will open at 3 p.m. Those with a valid Tech identification card will be admitted free.
 
“It will be good to get back home,” said Golden Suns head coach Dave Wilbers after his team beat Southern Arkansas 73-52 in Magnolia on Thursday night. “It’s been a tough two-game road trip with some long rides. It will be good to play in Tucker Coliseum again.”
 
The Suns bounced back from their first loss of the season --- a 78-72 setback at Christian Brothers on Monday --- by making a defensive switch at SAU. Tech utilized a man-to-man defense for the majority of the night, a big change for a team that has played almost exclusively zone defense this season.
 
“We had better intensity, and we got in a better stance,” said Wilbers. “I wouldn’t say we are really good at any defense, but it was more of just a challenge. You guard your girl, and if you get beat you are coming out of the game. We’ve got to get better defensively. I think offensively we’re doing a good job and we’ve got a lot of scorers, but I’ve told our players we have to make a commitment to improving our defense. I think we took a good first step (at SAU).”
 
The Tech defense will receive a challenge on Saturday from an Arkansas-Monticello team that made 11-of-21 (52 percent) shots from 3-point range in a 77-52 home win over Christian Brothers on Thursday night.
 
The Cotton Blossoms have won two straight games to put themselves back in the hunt for a berth in the GSC Tournament, and they have done it without three of their starters.
 
Nykita Gordon, Erika Brown and Ambra Smith have not played the last two games for UAM. Reports in the Pine Bluff Commercial this week indicated that they are currently suspended from the team and that their status is “day-to-day” according to head coach Chris Ratcliff.
 
Gordon is UAM’s leading scorer at 12.2 points per game, while Brown is second on the team in both scoring (9.1 points per game) and rebounding (5.0 per game).
 
“They’re playing better,” said Wilbers of UAM. “It seems like they have better chemistry (since the suspensions). That 11-of-21 3-point shooting (against CBU) is pretty good. I think we’re going to guard them in Tucker Coliseum, so we’ll see what kind of 3s they shoot there.”
 
The No. 1-ranked Wonder Boys dodged the biggest threat yet to their undefeated season on Thursday. Southern Arkansas had a look at a tip-in to upset Tech in the final second of regulation, but it was no good and the Wonder Boys took full advantage of their second life.
 
The Wonder Boys outscored the Muleriders 15-5 in overtime to secure a 79-69 victory and the 21st 20-win season in Tech men’s basketball history.
 
The 20-game winning streak matches the fourth-longest ever for the Wonder Boys.
 
“I’ve got guys who are going to make plays,” said Tech head coach Mark Downey when asked about his team’s resolve in the win at Magnolia. “I’ve got guys who aren’t going to panic. I don’t know if I’ve ever trusted a team in 15 years of coaching more than I trust this one. I get on them, I get mad at them and they make mistakes, but when it comes to that leadership I trust them. If I call something, they are going to execute it and they are going to make a shot.”
 
Arkansas-Monticello earned its fourth men’s basketball win in its last five games by defeating Christian Brothers 59-48 on Thursday. The Boll Weevils are in third place in the GSC West Division, just two games behind first-place Arkansas Tech halfway through the league race.

“They’ll be ready to play,” said Downey of UAM. “We told our guys (after the SAU game) that the longer we go, people are going to bring it better and better against us. We really need a big crowd there. That will be huge. It will be fun.”

Russellville radio station KWKK 100.9 FM and www.athletics.atu.edu will have live play-by-play coverage of Saturday's games.

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