Stephens: Toppers getting used to Petrino’s tempo

Brad Stephens

(A collection of Friday thoughts as I wait for Jay Bruce to get a hit with runners in scoring position)

The most fascinating part of these early stages of Bobby Petrino’s WKU tenure has been watching players try to adjust to how he runs spring practice.

The fast-paced, no-standing-around, no-time-wasted practices are a culture shock from how previous coach Willie Taggart ran things.

Gone are the days when players sauntered out of the locker room two or three at a time, shirts off, hanging around the water cart before stretches. Gone are the days when giant speakers were blasting everything from rap to “Song of the South” during warmups. Gone are the days when yapping between offense and defense was considered “juice.”

Now the players come out as one full group and leave as a group. There’s no music, and offense vs. defense smack talk is frowned upon as a time waste. The Toppers are on the field for less time, but they make more of it.

Petrino’s offenses are known as high-scoring units that get off as many snaps as possible and hang lots of points on the scoreboard.

That process starts in practice, where first-teamers and backups are constantly moving on and off the field so WKU can get off as many reps as possible.

The fast tempo gets the offense to put points up in small amounts of time in game situations. Coordinator Nick Holt’s defense also gets used to defending up-tempo systems by facing one every day.

The adjustment to the new way doesn’t just happen over night, as evidenced by some rough practices early in the spring period.

But during Thursday morning’s session WKU seemed more precise and efficient than it had this spring. Veteran linebacker Xavius Boyd said that’s a byproduct of getting used to working at the new pace.

“We’re getting more experience,” Boyd said, “so we’re knowing what to expect and how (the coaches) want us to play.”

Obviously there’s still more work to be done as far as tempo’s concerned, but that’s what spring practice is for.

The more efficient the Toppers are this spring, the farther ahead of schedule they’ll be this fall.

Looking back at WKU vs. Louisville

One year ago, Ray Harper’s WKU men lost to national champion Kentucky in the NCAA Tournament Second Round.

The Toppers may have met an eventual champ once again this season.

WKU fell 78-55 to Louisville at Bridgestone Arena in Nashville on Dec. 22. That night, a severely depleted Topper squad faced a Cardinal team that’s now the odds-on favorite to win this weekend’s Final Four.

U of L plays Wichita State Saturday in the national semifinals at 5:09 CT on CBS.

Looking back at notes from Dec. 22, several things were evident, including:

—Louisville is a far better team with center Gorgui Dieng than without him. The game could’ve been a real blowout if U of L had Dieng, who missed the game due to injury.

—Point guard Peyton Siva commits way too many fouls for a senior.

—Seeing Chane Behanan in person makes you wonder why Bowling Green High School didn’t win more when he was a Purple.

—WKU wasn’t going to start scoring again until T.J. Price and Jamal Crook both completely healed from injury. That turned out to be true.

I don’t imagine U of L having much trouble with Wichita State Saturday. Honestly, I don’t see them having a lot of trouble with Michigan or Syracuse Monday in the national championship game ether.

It’d be a shock (no Wichita pun intended) if Dieng, Siva, Behanan and Russ Smith aren’t cutting down the Georgia Dome nets Monday night.

WKU softball keeps on winning

WKU softball (20-11, 9-3 Sun Belt) cruised to a 6-1 win over Middle Tennessee Wednesday and sits first in the Sun Belt, clear of second-place South Alabama (29-7, 6-3).

Coach Tyra Perry’s Lady Topper squad will be in Austin, Texas this weekend for a two-game series against No. 8 Texas.

Beating the Longhorns at least one of the two games would be a highlight in what’s been an impressive season thus far for WKU.