Defining Five: WKU wins fifth straight since 2009-10

WKU senior guard Brandon Harris (12) rebounds the ball during the game against Texas State in Diddle Arena on Saturday, Feb. 1.

Tyler Lashbrook

WKU coach Ray Harper sees that his team has nine games remaining on the schedule. While Harper and the Toppers (15-7, 7-2 Sun Belt Conference) are only looking forward, it’s also easy to look back. WKU has won five-straight and is eight games over .500 for the first time since the 2009-10 squad finished with a 21-13 record. That season, the Toppers finished with a 12-6 conference record.

Saturday’s matchup at Arkansas-Little Rock comes as a big rematch for WKU; it’s the last team to beat the Toppers.

“We talked about how we are at the halfway point in the league,” Coach Ray Harper said. “We are 7-2 in the conference, 15-7 overall and we have nine games left. We need to get ready for next Saturday in Little Rock in a big one.”

The Toppers found their magic two nights after the loss to UALR, pulling out a double-overtime win against Arkansas State—the first win in the current five-game win streak.

Harper said after the game that he thought it could become the team’s “defining moment.”

Fast-forward two weeks and that claim is starting to look true.

The Toppers traveled to Louisiana after their thriller against ASU and swept Louisiana-Monroe and Louisiana-Lafayette—the first of those was a 19-point stomping and the second was a nail biter.

WKU returned home after that to battle the Texas tandem of Texas-Arlington and Texas State: The Toppers climbed back from a 15-point deficit to defeat the former and pulled away in the final minute against TSU in an otherwise back-and-forth affair.

“These were two tough games this week,” Harper said Saturday after the game against TSU, “and we were able to grind it out and find a way to win both games.”

Finding a way to win seems to be the Toppers calling. Four of the team’s seven conference wins have come by five points or less and their nine-point win over ULL came right down to the wire as well.

But the win-loss column doesn’t care how much a team wins by, only that it wins.

Senior guard Caden Dickerson said after the win against TSU that it was “big” to keep the momentum and the streak alive, but that there is still work to be done.

“There are a lot of areas we can work on: defense, keeping intensity the whole game, starting off the halves with the same intensity,” Dickerson said. “Working on the offensive flow, it can always get better, as well.

The Toppers are finding ways to win, but it’s taking them a while into the game to get into rhythm.

“We always end up getting down and always fighting back,” freshman guard Chris Harrison-Docks said. “That shows a lot of character that we can do that, but I think the sooner we can come out on runs and stay on top, we’ll continue to get better than we have been.”

The last five wins have put WKU alone in second place in the Sun Belt standings with nine more conference contests remaining. Georgia State is currently in first place, has won 12 games in a row and handed the Toppers one of their two conference losses, a 23-point beat down in Diddle Arena.

That loss seems farther and farther away as WKU has moved on and is in a much better place now than it was nearly a month ago.  Still, with Georgia State winning 12-straight, it will be tough for the Toppers to keep pace.

Harper said a week ago that the Toppers better find a way “to continue to win” if they had any thoughts of catching Georgia State.