WKU advances to C-USA Championship Semi-final, Hilltoppers to play UAB

Junior Charles Bassey handling the ball in the C-USA quarterfinals on March 11, 2021 against UTSA. 

Kaden Gaylord

WKU (19-6) played their first game in the Conference USA postseason since March 16, 2019, when they took to the court Thursday night against UTSA (15-11) at the Ford Center in Frisco, Texas. 

The Hilltoppers defeated the Roadrunners in dominating fashion with a final score of 80-67 to advance to the semi-final of the C-USA tournament. Now WKU will face UAB (22-6) tomorrow morning at 11 a.m. The Blazers took down Rice 73-60 leading up to their date with Hilltoppers. 

“That one’s behind us, we have a quick turn around at 11 o’clock against a [UAB] team that we haven’t faced yet,” head coach Rick Stansbury said. “We’ll see a different style tomorrow, a team that is going to press you a bunch.” 

UTSA was 10-2 coming into the quarterfinal matchup with the nation’s highest scoring backcourt, scoring 37 points a game. 

Junior Charles Bassey led the way for the Hilltoppers with 21 points, nine rebounds and five blocks. Redshirt senior Carson Williams followed with 15 points and nine rebounds on 5-of-9 shooting. Senior Keaton Wallace led UTSA with 30 points on 50% shooting. 

Williams contributed the first points of the game with a triple for the Hilltoppers. Both teams came out sluggish early on for a combined start of 5-of-18 from the field and both starting 1-of-5 from the three-point line. Williams scored seven of the Hilltoppers’ first 12 points. 

“It was a good game and I was happy with it all around,” Williams said. “Just kept on trying to make effort plays and I think I did that.” 

WKU remained a defensive stronghold as Bassey came up with four blocks by the halfway point of the first half. Anderson also had a big block to keep UTSA out of the paint early. The Hilltoppers used that defensive pressure and turned it into a 7-0 run to help create separation. 

“The deeper you go the better you have to be,” Stansbury said of Bassey’s play. “You know what it does for everybody, how much impact it has on this team. He was very efficient on both ends offensively and defensively.”

The Hilltoppers kept the pressure on, going on a 8-0 run in under a minute to give them a double-digit lead. WKU would add a few more points to give them a 38-25 lead at halftime. UTSA shot 10-of-36 in the first half. 

Bassey ended the first half with five blocks and four points, whereas Williams led the WKU scorers with nine points. Wallace led the Roadrunners in the first half with 12 points.

“It’s definitely big, he’s been big for us all year long,” Hollingsworth said of Bassey. “It’s a blessing he can come through again and continue to do that.” 

WKU kept the ball rolling in the second half, scoring the first seven points with five coming from Bassey. 

The onslaught continued throughout the rest of the half. UTSA did not go quietly as WKU’s bench came into the game, and the Roadrunners took advantage with a 9-0 run to bring the deficit down to 11. 

Bassey wasn’t having any of it, scoring 17 of his 21 total points in the second half. He checked  out of the game with under three minutes left with what looked to be back pain, which he had endured throughout the season. 

“Don’t know where he is at this point,” Stansbury said. “If he’s ready to go he’l be ready to go. He’ll fight but we’ll have to see where he’s at.” 

WKU controlled the Roadrunners’ leading scorer, senior Jhivvan Jackson, holding him to five points on 2-of-12 shooting and 1-of-7 from behind the arc. He averaged 20 for the season.

“I thought we did about as good of a job as you can do against Jackson,” Stansbury said. 

The Hilltoppers kept packing the paint and taking advantage of its size and speed putting up 30 points in the paint, seven total blocks and 39 total rebounds. 

WKU shot 24-for-25 from the free throw line against the Roadrunners. The Hilltoppers rounded out the game holding UTSA scoreless for 3:29 heading into the semi-final.

Next up the Hilltoppers play 11 a.m. Friday for a matinee semi-final matchup against Alabama-Birmingham. WKU was supposed to play UAB last season to kickoff the postseason, but the tournament was canceled due to COVID-19. 

“I mean that’s always big for us,” Stansbury said of having fans in attendance. “We had the biggest and best crowd for sure. We’re gonna need every ounce of energy they can help us with everything they can give us tomorrow.” 

Stansbury said he and his team have to get tested prior to the next matchup and then they’ll be good to go to continue on in the C-USA postseason. 

Men’s basketball beat reporter Kaden Gaylord can be reached at [email protected]. Follow Kaden on Twitter at @_KLG3.