COOKEVILLE, Tenn. -- The Tennessee Tech women's basketball team, the only unbeaten team in the Ohio Valley Conference, will face the Eastern Illinois Panthers Monday night in a battle between the top-ranked teams from each division. The Panthers hold home court advantage, but the Golden Eagles have a 4-0 conference record giving the visitors momentum. Tip-off is set for 7 p.m.
The Golden Eagles have kicked off conference action with an unblemished record through four games for the first time since the Bill Worrell era. In the 2004-05 season, Tech opened the season with a 4-0 record and went on to finish with a 14-3 record.
Setting the Stage Rivalry: competing for superiority. In the Ohio Valley Conference, Tennessee Tech is generally considered at the top of the pyramid, and each year a different team has attempted to drag them to the bottom. This season, the team flying under the radar is Eastern Illinois. While Tech and UT Martin were preseason favorites, the Panthers have stalked in the shadows waiting for their moment to attack. What better moment than when the only undefeated team enters their gym.
A white-out is on tap, but the Golden Eagles have prepared for this exact moment themselves. It's been a tough road, but the will to win has increased with each contest. The Purple and Gold have players that refuse to lose. With each dribble of the basketball propeling themselves forward, they strive for their goals despite the injuries, the sickness and the sweat swelling in their bodies.
Conference action is in full swing, and with each opponent attempting to spoil Tech's undefeated conference record, the Golden Eagles now have to prove with each game that they deserve to be at the top of the pyramid.
Last season, Eastern Illinois stole a 52-51 win in Cookeville. The Golden Eagles led the entire game, and Harris made a layup with just under two minutes remaining to give Tech a three-point lead. The Golden Eagles wouldn't score again, and two jump shots later, the Panthers left the Eblen Center with a victory.
Fast forward two weeks to the OVC Tournament and the Golden Eagles came to play. Tech held a comfortable lead the entire game, but the Panthers scratched their way into the nest, and sent the game into overtime, thanks to a three-pointer in the final seconds of the regulation. The Golden Eagles soared to a 81-72 victory, and continued on to the championship game.
Needless to say, it may not be the biggest rivalry in the OVC, but when the Golden Eagles think of the Panthers, there is an intense feeling of drive and fight to win.
A Glance at the 2012-13 Golden Eagles Tech has strung together three wins for the first time in the 2012-13 season. As the only unbeaten squad in the OVC, the women's basketball team has lived up to their preseason ranking. Picked to finish first in the East Division, the Golden Eagles have had the attention of every team in the conference.
For the Purple and Gold faithful, they have seen glimpses of a No. 1 team, but it wasn't until recently that they have seen a team that has the potential to end the same way. The strength of the Golden Eagles is not the performance of one individual, but by a team of athletes. As the season has progressed Tech's play has changed and developed. The Golden Eagles have added several facets to their game since the first tip-off of the season.
Tech opened the season as one of the best three-point shooting teams in the country thanks to seniors Jala Harris, Lashay Davis, Kellie Cook and Kylie Cook. As teams started to adjust to Tech's perimeter play, the Golden Eagles used quick ball movement to find an open man just outside the paint. Teams again adjusted and Tech's forwards appeared. T'Keyah Williams and Molly Heady made an impact in the paint thanks to Williams' presence deep in the paint and Heady's ability to shoot anywhere on the court.
Tech's well-balanced game has been refined with each win and the team has six or seven different players with the ability to take over a game. The Golden Eagles have seen Diamond Henderson score on the dribble and behind the arc, Harris go baseline to baseline, and Davis light up a game from behind the three-point line. The Cook twins have both made crucial shots and Tech's depth on the bench at all positions has become a tool rather than a last resort.
The Golden Eagles are led by the one-two punch of Henderson and Harris each averaging 15.2 and 13.1 points per game respectively. Harris commands the court dishing out 65 assists per season, including seven against SIUE, and has collected 23 steals. Defensively, Davis leads the Purple and Gold averaging 2.5 steals per game, and assists Harris in creating shots for her teammates with 1.6 assists per game.
Williams and Heady give the team 10.7 rebounds per game, with five other players adding 2+ assists per game. Candace Parson and Mariah Dean have seen significant playing time since the start of conference action, adding physicality to Tech's game.
As a team, Tech averages 64.7 points with a 41.6 shooting percentage, 35.2 rebounds, 12.1 assists and 8.4 steals per game. Tech is holding opponents to 62.4 points per game.
A Look at the Panthers Eastern Illinois may be the most complete "team" in the conference. They have five players that consistently shoot from behind the arc. The top two teams in the conference in three-point field goal percentage are Tech and EIU shooting .357 and .348 respectively.
The Panthers are led by Mariah King and Ta'Kenya Nixon. The pair averages 26.8 points and 11.9 rebounds per team. Jordyne Crunk is the best perimeter shooter, averaging 38.9 percent from behind the arc.
The Panters are coached by Lee Buchanan who is in his first year at the helm of the team, but has been with the program for six seasons.
Series History The Golden Eagles and the Panthers have a history of tough match-ups, going into overtime twice in the past four years. Since Eastern Illinois became an OVC member in 1996, the two teams have been paired up 36 times and Tech holds a 23-13 advantage. The Purple and Gold went through a 0-9 drought from 2006-2010 and currently sit 3-1 in the past two years.
The Golden Eagles lost to the Pantehrs in regular season action last season but defeated the Panthers in OVC Tournament play in an overtime win. The Golden Eages are 4-1 against Eastern Illinois in post-season play.