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The Final Mile: Regular Season Wraps Saturday

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One of the most successful regular seasons in Arkansas Tech basketball history will come to an end on Saturday when the nationally top-ranked Wonder Boys and the nationally seventh-ranked Golden Suns host Christian Brothers University for a Gulf South Conference doubleheader at Tucker Coliseum in Russellville.
 
Tip-off for the women’s game between the Golden Suns (24-2 overall, 11-2 GSC West Division) and the CBU Lady Buccaneers (15-10, 6-7) is set for 4 p.m.
 
The men’s contest between the GSC West Division champion Wonder Boys (25-1, 12-1) and the CBU Buccaneers (17-9, 7-6) will begin at 6 p.m.
 
The ticket office and doors to the coliseum will open at 3 p.m. Those with a valid Tech identification card will be admitted free. 
 
Both Arkansas Tech teams also have plenty to play for entering the final day of the regular season.
 
For Arkansas Tech’s women, the goal is a GSC West Division title. The Golden Suns are tied with Delta State (22-2, 11-2) for first place. The Lady Statesmen will conclude their regular season by hosting Henderson State at 4 p.m. Saturday.
 
Tech is seeking its first GSC West title in women’s basketball since 2003, while Delta State is aiming for a fifth straight division crown.
 
“We’ve given ourselves an opportunity to play on the last Saturday of the season with a chance to win a conference championship,” said Golden Suns head coach Dave Wilbers. “Even more important than that, though, is that this gives us a chance to get some momentum going into the conference tournament. And of course the ultimate goal of any program is to make the NCAA Tournament and to win games in the NCAA Tournament.
 
“I think our team is ready,” continued Wilbers. “Really, this is a new experience for a lot of our players on the college level. If you would’ve told me three or four months ago that we could go into the last Saturday and play for a championship, I would have taken it.”
 
Then there is the revenge factor. Christian Brothers gave the Golden Suns their first loss of the season in a 78-72 decision in Memphis, Tenn., on Feb. 1.
 
The Lady Buccaneers could lose on Saturday and possibly still get in to the postseason with help from elsewhere, but a win over the Golden Suns would certainly improve their odds. 
 
“Christian Brothers beat us last time, and they beat us real bad in the second half,” said Wilbers. “We’ve got to be ready to play because they are a hard match-up for us. It’s going to be a battle, but this is exactly where we want to be this time of year.”

Arkansas Tech’s men have already wrapped up the GSC West Division title and a No. 1 seed in next week’s GSC Tournament.

And even though the Wonder Boys’ dreams of an undefeated regular season came to an end with a 58-51 loss at Arkansas-Monticello on Thursday, Tech still has one very big reason to bring its “A” game on Saturday.

The Wonder Boys are ranked No. 1 in the NCAA Division II South Region. They must maintain that ranking through the GSC Tournament next week in order to host the NCAA Division II Tournament South Regional at Tucker Coliseum March 13-16.

The loss at UAM took away some of the cushion that Arkansas Tech enjoyed in its pursuit of the No. 1 seed and hosting rights in the NCAA Tournament.

“We’ll see something different now,” said Wonder Boys head coach Mark Downey. “How does this group respond after a loss? Are we going to hang our heads, or are we going to get it turned around? I think we’ll get it turned around, and we’ll do it by working hard. We’ve got to get back to doing what we do.”

Valdosta State, the GSC East Division champion, is ranked No. 2 in the region with a 23-3 record. The Blazers will close out their regular season by hosting West Georgia on Saturday before heading to Southaven, Miss., for the GSC Tournament.

The Wonder Boys defeated Valdosta State 79-66 in the 2009 GSC Tournament championship game.

Christian Brothers’ men, the defending NCAA Division II South Region champions, are in a must-win situation on Saturday in order to reach the GSC Tournament.

Saturday will mark the final regular season home appearance for two senior Golden Suns --- guard Ashley Chisum of Bryant and forward Anna Baran of Rzeszow, Poland.

Five Wonder Boys seniors --- guards Brandon Friedel of Victoria, Texas, Marcus Pillow of Russellville, Dexter Hendrix of Benton and Renard Allen of New Orleans, La., and forward Irvin Humphrey of Boutte, La. --- will also play their final regular season game at Tucker Coliseum.

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

The Golden Suns will play their first-round game in the GSC Tournament on Thursday, March 4, while the Wonder Boys will open their portion of the event on Friday, March 5. KWKK and www.athletics.atu.edu will broadcast all of Tech’s games from the GSC Tournament.

All games in the GSC Tournament will be played at the DeSoto Civic Center in Southaven. For ticket and other tournament information, visit www.gulfsouthconference.org.

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