Harper looking for veterans

Senior guard Jamal Crook shoots for 2 points against Brescia. Crook scored 17 points in the game. WKU won 74-46 against Brescia on Saturday Nov. 24, 2012 at Diddle Arena.

Lucas Aulbach

The Toppers were obviously the better team in Diddle Arena Saturday night when they took on Brescia — but that wasn’t enough for coach Ray Harper.

Despite beating the NAIA Division II foe 74-46, the Toppers finished with just nine assists to 15 turnovers.

A slow start and poor ball movement caused Harper to wonder whether his team was mature enough to be competitive as Sun Belt Conference play kicks off.

“It’s like I told them, ‘You win one game against DePaul (in Cancun, Mexico, last week) and you think you’re pretty good?’ I mean, come on,” he said after the game. “A basketball season, it’s a journey, it’s about one step at a time, it’s about getting better each day.”

WKU (4-2) was without sophomore forward George Fant on Saturday. Fant was out with a knee bruise and is listed as day-to-day.

The Toppers are a different team without Fant, who averages 10.4 points and 6.6 rebounds. While his absence might not have hurt the Toppers against the Brescia, it would certainly affect the team’s performance in a more competitive game.

Even without the forward, the Toppers were dominant in the paint. They held Brescia to just four baskets inside the three-point line and their two centers, senior Teeng Akol and freshman Aleksejs Rostov, combined for 27 points.

“They really didn’t put any pressure on the basket and they tried to shoot everything from the outside and three-point line,” Rostov said. They didn’t really bother us down on the block.”

Harper said even more veteran leadership from the Toppers could have minimized the loss of Fant.

“Usually if you get good veteran leadership, it’s not a problem, and that’s what we’ve got to have — some veterans,” he said.

One of the few true veterans on the team is senior guard Jamal Crook, who finished Saturday with a game-high 17 points.

Crook said that leadership role falls on the whole team, not just one individual.

“There comes a time where everybody has to come together and step up,” he said. “Whether it’s one guy or 15, somebody has to take that ownership and get everybody into it.”

WKU’s next opponent is a step up from Brescia. The Toppers will travel south this week to take on Louisiana-Monroe Thursday at 7:30 p.m. in their first Sun Belt game of the season.

ULM (0-2), struggled through a 5-26 campaign last year and is still looking for its first win after dropping its first two games this season.

Harper said he’s more concerned with his team improving and getting more experienced than he is about scouting the Warhawks.

“The bottom line is it’s more about us and us getting ready,” he said. “We’re 4-2, we’ve played some pretty good basketball at times, and we’ve got three days to get things corrected and try and get to 5-2.”