Aulbach: New names emerge in big roles for WKU

WKU’s junior guard Aaron Adeoye (11) goes for a rebound over ULM’s forward Jayon James (1) during the first half of WKU’s 72-63 victory over the University of Louisiana-Monroe Saturday, Feb. 22, 2014 at Diddle Arena in Bowling Green, Ky. (Mike Clark/HERALD)

Lucas Aulbach

No T.J. Price was no problem for the Topper basketball team in its win over Louisiana-Monroe last weekend thanks to big-time contributions from some lesser-known players, but WKU won’t always be so lucky as it starts its stretch run to the Sun Belt Conference Tournament.

On Saturday it was Daouda Soumaoro, WKU’s little-used sophomore forward, who came out of nowhere for the Toppers.

I must’ve misspelled Soumaoro’s name at least five times that night but his surprise start, eight-rebound performance and guarantee from coach Ray Harper for more playing time has made it clear that he’s got a name we’ll all be hearing a lot more of over the course of the next month.

Price, who played just five minutes Saturday night due to soreness in his right shoulder, could be back on the court tonight at 7 p.m. when the Toppers take on Texas State, Harper said on Tuesday, but the coach has said his team needs to learn to step up when its leading scorer is on the bench.

“I’ve always told guys ‘You will get an opportunity at some point during the season — be ready when that opportunity comes,” Harper said. “It’s much like a job. You never know when that opportunity is going to come to you, so be prepared.”

ULM is far from the class of the Sun Belt, but last Saturday was a promising win for the Toppers any way you look at it.

WKU got a combined 12 points from Price and junior forward George Fant, widely considered the two most important players on the team.

Instead, the Toppers thrived off of strong performances on the boards from guys like Soumaoro (two points, eight rebounds) and senior forward O’Karo Akamune (four points, eight rebounds), while sharpshooting freshman guard Chris Harrison-Docks (15 points, three 3-pointers) and a career night from junior guard Trency Jackson (25 points on 8-of-17 shooting) gave the offense the boost it needed.

With the exception of Soumaoro, these are names that, with four regular season games remaining, most WKU fans should know by now.

But as opponents key in on shutting down Price and Fant, preseason first team all-Sun Belt players and the Most Valuable Players of the past two Sun Belt Tournaments, guys like Jackson, Akamune and even Soumaoro are going to be the most important pieces for the Toppers as they look to win a third straight conference tournament in March.

WKU has spent much of the season relying on Price and Fant to guide the offense.

With just a few games until win-or-go-home time, Topper fans should be more encouraged by some of the other names starting to show up on the box score.