Hilltoppers prepare to defend home court against Texas invasion

WKU head coach Rick Stansbury gives a thumbs up to a loud cheering crowd after defeating 15th-ranked Wisconsin 83-76 in Diddle Arena Dec. 29 in Bowling Green. Stansbury had coached WKU to wins over three Power 5 teams this year. 

Alec Jessie

The WKU men’s basketball team returns to Diddle Arena for a home-stand against Texas-San Antonio and Texas-El Paso.

The Hilltoppers will look to get back on track after losing their last time out at Louisiana Tech.

With four of the next six games at home, junior Jared Savage stated the importance of defending home court advantage.

“You got to win at home,” Savage said. “It’s tough to win on the road so you definitely got to get them at home. We look forward to packing Diddle and playing in front of everyone.”

UTSA will be the first foe looking to knock off the Hilltoppers. This season, the Roadrunners are 12-9 on the season and are currently tied with North Texas for first place in Conference-USA with a 6-2 conference record.

According to KenPom statistics, UTSA ranks 194th in adjusted offensive efficiency and 137th in adjusted defensive efficiency.

Two sophomore guards lead UTSA. Jhivvan Jackson averages 21.3 points per game. Keaton Wallace averages 19.2 points a game along with five rebounds a game. Senior forward Nick Allen also contributes 10 points and 5.1 rebounds a game.

Last season, the Roadrunners defeated the Hilltoppers in San Antonio by a score of 74-63.

Head coach Rick Stansbury was not happy with his team’s performance against the Roadrunners a year ago.

“We showed up and were not very good,” Stansbury said. “We didn’t show up and got beat in a hurry. They played well and we didn’t play very well. When you don’t play well on the road you get beat.”

UTSA is coming off two straight wins, including a wild comeback against Old Dominion. The Roadrunners trailed the Monarchs 69-52 with 3:44 remaining, but came all the way back to win 74-73.

The WKU head coach heaped praise upon the talented UTSA guards.

“They got two of the better guards not only in this league, but the country,” Stansbury said. “Averaging 20 points between them. When you got guys like that, that can shoot it like that, you can come back 17 down with 3:45 left.”  

Sophomore guard Taveion Hollingsworth says the UTSA star guards keep it simple which leads to their success.

“They just go out there and play ball,” Hollingsworth said. “When they get the ball, they’re looking to score every time.”

Stansbury also adds that a team with such good guard play is tough to beat regardless of setting.

“Jackson and Wallace can score that ball in bunches, in a hurry,” Stansbury said. “When you got that can do that, you got a chance against anybody on a given night.”

WKU’s second opponent has struggled through conference play. The UTEP Miners are currently 7-12 overall and 2-6 in conference play, which is second to last in the C-USA standings only ahead of Charlotte.

The Miners will travel to Marshall on Thursday night prior to squaring off with the Hilltoppers at Diddle. According to Kenpom statistics, UTEP ranks 336th in adjusted offensive efficiency and 103rd in adjusted defensive efficiency.

Sophomore guard Evan Gilyard leads the team in scoring with 16.4 points per games. Freshman forward Efe Odigie has scored 13.1 points per game and leads the Miners in rebounding with 9.4 per game.   

Last season, the Hilltoppers downed the Miners in El Paso 72-60.

Tipoff for Thursday’s showdown against UTSA is slated for 7:00 p.m. and Saturday night’s matchup with UTEP is scheduled for 6:00 p.m.

Men’s basketball reporter Alec Jessie can be reached at 270-745-6291 and [email protected]. Follow Alec on Twitter at @Alec_Jessie.