Toppers set to face No. 3 seed South Alabama

Lucas Aulbach

HOT SPRINGS, Ark. – The Toppers will look to continue their hot start to the Sun Belt Conference Tournament tonight against South Alabama.

WKU (17-15, 11-10 SBC) and USA (17-11, 14-6 SBC) have faced each other twice this season – the Jaguars won the first meeting Jan. 24 by a score of 65-57, while the Toppers prevailed Feb. 28 at home 79-73.

USA earned the No. 3 seed in the tournament and had a first-round bye. The Jaguars won in their last game, topping Troy 53-49 on March 2.

The Jaguars lead the conference in free throw percentage, rebounds per game, offensive rebounds per game and blocks per game.

WKU, the No. 6 seed, had a big win over Louisiana-Monroe in the first round of the tournament to earn a spot in the second round against USA. The Toppers beat the Warhawks 74-60 Friday night at Summit Arena in Hot Springs, Ark.

After the game, coach Ray Harper said the Toppers have to do one task in order to win against the Jaguars – stop junior forward Augustine Rubit.

Rubit, the Sun Belt Conference Player of the Year, leads USA in points per game with 18.9 and rebounding with 10.9 boards per game. He leads the Sun Belt in rebounding and is the second-leading scorer in the conference.

“It’s going to be a good one tomorrow night,” Harper said after the ULM game. “We face the premier player in the league in Augustine Rubit. He’s done it night-in and night-out, and that’s why he’s the conference Player of the Year.”

Rubit has had two strong performances against the Toppers this year. He recording 19 points and 11 rebounds in the first meeting between the teams and 23 points and nine rebounds in the Feb. 28 meeting.

Harper said he doesn’t expect his team to totally shut down the forward, but the Toppers need to play smart defense and limit Rubit.

“We’ve got to make him work for his buckets,” Harper said. “We can’t give him easy ones, we’ve got to do a good job of rotating, being smart, understanding when we’re trapping and when we’re not trapping.”

WKU and USA will tip off at 8:30 p.m. tonight at Summit Arena.