Toppers to take tropical trip this weekend

Lucas Aulbach

The Toppers will head south this week with hopes that their basketball future is as bright as the Florida sun.

WKU (13-12, 7-7 Sun Belt Conference) will face Florida Atlantic Thursday at 6 p.m. and Florida International Saturday at 6:30 p.m.

The games against FAU (11-15, 6-9 SBC) and FIU (13-11, 8-7 SBC) represent an important stretch for WKU.

With the sixth-best record in the Sun Belt, a couple of wins could help vault WKU into a top-five seed coming into the Sun Belt Conference Tournament in March. The schools with the top-five seeds get a first-round bye in the tourney.

The impact of the games goes beyond seeding, though. Coming off of Saturday’s big loss at home to Arkansas State, the Toppers are looking to pick up some momentum in Florida to last them through their final six regular season games.

Sophomore guard T.J. Price said the team is looking to offset that loss with winning performances this weekend.

“This will be a big week for us to get both of those games on the road — especially with them being on the road,” he said. “When we get those out, I feel like we’ll have a lot of momentum going then.”

Price filled up the stat sheet Saturday against ASU, leading WKU in points (21), rebounds (seven) and assists (four).

His seven field goals made up for almost half of WKU’s offense — the Toppers hit just 16-of-50 shots, shooting 32 percent for the game.

Coach Ray Harper said poor shooting was the key in the loss.

“I thought we missed a lot of easy baskets,” he said. “I’m talking in the paint and three-pointers with no one guarding us. At this level, if you’re going to be a good basketball team, you’re going to miss some, but you’ve got to make more than you miss.”

FAU has a guy who can make almost any shot on the court in senior guard Greg Gantt.

Gantt averages 21 points per game, best in the Sun Belt and good for No. 8 in the NCAA. He dropped 22 on the Toppers in FAU’s 65-62 loss on Jan. 12.

WKU will face another strong scorer Saturday against FIU junior forward Tymell Murphy.

Murphy, averaging 15.5 points per game, is the most efficient scorer in the league. His field goal percentage of .601 leads the Sun Belt by a wide margin.

If Harper follows through on what he said after Saturday’s loss to ASU, FAU will face a different lineup than the one that took the court against the Red Wolves.

The coach said Saturday that he expects to make some depth chart changes before the FAU game.

“We’re going to shake it up,” Harper said. “The starting lineup will be different when we play Thursday night. Who it will be, I have no idea — it’ll be based on who practices well Monday through Wednesday, but there will be some changes when we play next game.”