BASKETBALL SPECIAL: Six non-conference games to watch

Tyler Mansfield

Both the WKU men’s and women’s basketball teams have played their respected exhibitions and are now gearing up for the tipoff of the regular season.

On the women’s side, Head Coach Michelle Clark-Heard and the Lady Toppers open their regular-season slate with a home game against Alabama A&M University on Friday at 7 p.m. while Rick Stansbury and the Hilltoppers welcome Alabama State University into Diddle Arena on Saturday for a contest scheduled to get underway at the same time.

With the regular-season now here, we examine the two schedules and point out the six non-conference games to watch for both clubs, ranging by the dates of the matchups.

1.) Hilltoppers at Belmont University – Nov. 19 at 7 p.m. 

An intriguing series that has included eight meetings, whenever WKU and Belmont face off, it’s bound to be a physical battle.

The Bruins’ and Hilltoppers’ all-time series record is knotted at 4-4 – WKU held a 4-3 advantage before Belmont defeated the Tops, 90-85 in Nashville last season to even the series.

With the Bruins victory in 2015, WKU has now dropped three-straight outings to the Ohio Valley Conference foe.

In addition to that, Belmont is 62-3 over the last five seasons in its home venue, the Curb Event Center – the arena where WKU will be in action for its third regular-season game of the season.

2.) Hilltoppers vs. University of Washington – Nov. 25 at 7 p.m.

In what will mark the first ever meeting between the two programs, WKU will face a tough challenge against PAC-12 rival Washington in its first game of the Global Sports Classic in Las Vegas on the day after Thanksgiving.

The Huskies, a group that competed in the NIT Tournament last season, will be the Hilltoppers’ first opponent in the tournament, as WKU will meet either Texas Christian University or the University of Nevada at Las Vegas the following day to wrap up its trip out west. Stansbury’s Tops will certainly be tested in this outing.

3.) Hilltoppers at Saint Mary’s College (Ca.) – Dec. 14 at 9 p.m. 

WKU’s sixth-straight road game in a lengthy timetable away from Diddle will come against West Coast Conference power-house Saint Mary’s in mid-December.

The Gaels went 29-6 last season and won the WCC regular-season title before falling to Gonzaga in the conference tournament final.

On top of that, Saint Mary’s advanced to the NIT quarterfinals and finished the year at 29th in the NCAA RPI. It will also mark the first ever meeting between to the two programs.

4.) Lady Toppers vs. Indiana University – Nov. 19 at 2 p.m.

In what will most likely be WKU’s toughest game on John Oldham Court this season, Indiana will present a solid team that will set-up an intriguing basketball affair with the Lady Toppers, who will meet the Hoosiers in what will be WKU’s second regular-season outing.

The two sides will go at it for the first time in the Nov. 19 contest as 18 returning letterwinners will square off with each other.

Last season, IU advanced to the second round of the NCAA Tournament with the leadership junior All-Big Ten selection Trya Buss, who averaged 18.8 ppg, 4.3 apg and 2.1 spg in 2015-16.

5.) Lady Toppers at University of Louisville – Dec 11 at 1 p.m. 

After knocking off the then-No. 16 ranked Cardinals in Diddle last season in a thrilling 71-69 victory in what would be their first win against a ranked opponent since 2004, the Lady Toppers will have their minds set on doing quite the same in this year’s meeting.

WKU’s Michelle Clark-Heard and Louisville’s Jeff Walz coached together when Clark-Heard was an assistant under Walz at UofL for five seasons, so when the two sides meet at the KFC Yum! Center this year, it’ll be a friendly battle between the two coaches.

6.) Lady Toppers vs. Ball State University – Dec. 21 at 5:30 p.m. 

As the Mid-American Conference foe rallied from a four-point halftime deficit and scored 31 points in the fourth quarter to defeat WKU, 74-60 in last year’s season opener in Muncie, Indiana, the Lady Toppers will be looking to grab a victory over the Cardinals in this season’s meeting in the later-part of December in Diddle.

In last season’s meeting, now-junior forward Moriah Monaco scored 18 points to help push Ball State to the victory while now-sophomore Kayla Smith led the Lady Toppers with 13 points in her debut.