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Tech-DSU: Top Rivalry in D-II Women's Hoops

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The greatest rivalry in NCAA Division II women’s basketball will add one of its most anticipated chapters ever on Saturday when the Arkansas Tech Golden Suns host the Delta State Lady Statesmen in a match-up of undefeated and top-10 ranked teams.  The ninth-ranked Golden Suns (17-0 overall, 4-0 Gulf South Conference) and the second-ranked Lady Statesmen (15-0, 4-0) will tip-off at 4 p.m. Saturday under the dome of Tucker Coliseum. The winner will take the early lead in the GSC West Division race.
 
The ticket office and the gates will open at 3 p.m. Saturday. Those with a valid Tech identification card will be admitted free.
 
Delta State and Arkansas Tech are two of the most celebrated names in the history of women’s college basketball.

The Lady Statesmen own six national championships --- three at the Association for Intercollegiate Athletics for Women level (1975, 1976, 1977) and three at the NCAA Division II level (1989, 1990 and 1992).

The Golden Suns were twice NAIA national champions (1992 and 1993). They were NCAA Division II national runners-up in 1999. Tech has appeared in semifinal round of a national tournament on seven occasions.

Delta State is No. 1 in NCAA Division II history for wins (968) and winning percentage (.803). Arkansas Tech is third in D-II history for wins (805) and fourth in winning percentage (.787).

Their paths first crossed in 1993, when the Golden Suns swept a home-and-home series from the Lady Statesmen in a match-up of reigning national champions.

Their fates were intertwined before the 1995-96 season when Tech joined Delta State in NCAA Division II and the GSC.

Fifteen years later, their shared history makes it difficult to mention one program without thinking of the other.
 
All of that tradition is cherished in both Cleveland, Miss., and Russellville, Ark., but the recent history of this series is not as pleasant a topic for Arkansas Tech.

The Golden Suns have not defeated Delta State since Jan. 29, 2005. The Lady Statesmen have won all 12 meetings between the two storied programs since then, including two wins over Tech in the championship round of the GSC Tournament and a victory over the Suns in the 2007 NCAA Division II Tournament.

But only three of Arkansas Tech’s current players --- senior guard Ashley Chisum, senior forward Anna Baran and sophomore center Taise da Silva --- have first-hand knowledge of any of those losses.

They are the only three Golden Suns that have experienced the Lady Statesmen’s bruising style of basketball and their suffocating man-to-man defense.

And so, in many ways, Saturday marks a new era in the Tech-DSU women’s basketball rivalry. With both teams stocked with juniors and sophomores, the next two years promise to deliver some of the best games between the two programs yet.

“It’s a great rivalry,” said Tech head coach Dave Wilbers. “It’s always a good crowd when we go over to Delta State, and I know it will be a good crowd here at Tucker Coliseum on Saturday. We have so many new players, and they are always interested in our next conference opponent.

“Delta State always has a good basketball team, and they have a good program,” continued Wilbers. “Their coaches do a good job and they have good players in their program. With all of the tradition on both sides it really makes it a lot of fun.”

The Golden Suns come into the game third in NCAA Division II in scoring offense at 85.2 points per game. The Lady Statesmen allow just 51.8 points per game, which places them third in D-II in scoring defense.

Both teams excel in creating extra possessions, but they do it in different ways.

Delta State accomplishes that task through rebounding. The Lady Statesmen are fourth in the nation in rebounding margin (+11.3 rebounds per game).

Arkansas Tech gets the upper hand in possessions by forcing mistakes by its opponents and by protecting the basketball. The Golden Suns are 11th in the country in turnover margin (+7.19 turnovers per game).

One aspect of the game in which both teams excel is shooting the basketball. Tech is fourth in NCAA Division II in field goal percentage (.497); Delta State is seventh (.485).

The Golden Suns are led by junior guard Jenny Vining (20.8 points, 4.5 assists per game) and sophomore forward Natalia Santos (14.8 points, 7.0 rebounds per game).

Tech freshman forward Jessica Weatherford is averaging 10.4 points per contest, but since the start of conference play her production has jumped to 14 points per outing. She had career highs of 23 points and 11 rebounds in Tech’s 78-74 win at Ouachita Baptist on Thursday night.

Delta State’s top two players are former Gentry High School (Miss.) teammates Sarita “Bug” Cooper and Veronica Walker. Cooper leads the nation in assists (7.9 per game), while Walker averages 17.7 points per game and is second in D-II in field goal percentage (.652).

“We have to take (Walker) a little bit out of her comfort zone in terms of her positioning,” said Wilbers. “She’s outstanding. They have a lot of good players, but she really is a key in the post for them.”

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

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