WKU fans pack Diddle for Hilltopper Hysteria

WKU kicked off basketball season on Friday with Hilltopper Hysteria, highlighted by the presence of many old and new faces.

The event was the first chance for many Topper fans to see the revamped and reshaped men’s and women’s basketball teams.

Men’s coach Ray Harper and women’s coach Michelle Clark-Heard, both entering their first full year as head coach at WKU, each received standing ovations from the crowd at Diddle Arena when they stepped on the court to address the crowd.

Volleyball coach Travis Hudson also received a warm reception when he spoke to the crowd at the start of the show.

Hysteria began with a home volleyball match — the Lady Toppers swept Florida International in front of an official audience of 2,894.

“Has there ever been a better time to be a Hilltopper?” Hudson asked the crowd after the match.

Hysteria was made up of several events — scrimmages from the two teams, a three-point shot contest and a dunk contest.

The women opened the basketball action on the night with their intra-squad scrimmage, divided into red and black team.

The ladies were spread the wealth in their debut, as nine different Lady Toppers scored in the first half of the contest. 

The Red Team was up 20-18 in the final seconds of the game. Sophomore guard Alexis Govan of the Black Team went for the game winning three-point shot, but the ball went in and out of the basket at the buzzer to give the Red Team the win.

Govan led all Lady Toppers in scoring with nine points.

Sophomore Danay Fothergill followed with 7 points for the red team.

Heard is looking to reshape a program that struggled to nine wins under former coach Mary Taylor Cowles last winter.

Heard, a WKU alum (1990), told the crowd prior to the scrimmage that exciting things were going to happen for this women’s basketball program.

“I think it was a great turnout,” Heard said. “It’s really amazing and electrifying and I’m excited for our girls and excited for our future and what we’re trying to do.”

The men’s basketball team followed them with a 12-minute scrimmage of its own.

The Red Team topped the Black Team 22-18 thanks to an eight-point performance from senior guard Jamal Crook.

The surprise of the night wore black, though. Freshman center Aleksejs Rostov led the Black Team with seven points and three rebounds in his first action in front of the WKU crowd.

“I like this event — it’s pretty exciting,” Rostov said. “I like the crowd. We had a lot of fun, we introduced ourselves, we showed a little bit of what we’re going to show on the court when we really get into games.”

Harper said Rostov, one of three freshmen on the team, will see time on the court in the regular season this year.

“He’s going to play depending on how quickly he can pick up our defensive schemes,” he said. “He’s as ready as any of our freshman, I think.”

The three-point contest was another close affair. The Red Squad, made up of junior guard Caden Dickerson and sophomore guard Danay Fothergill, hit 13 three-pointers to beat the Black Team, composed of junior guard Bianca McGee and junior guard Brandon Harris.

“I shot alright,” Fothergill said of her performance. “I probably should have shot a little better but we won some fans some coupons.”

The win by the Red Squad earned Chick-Fil-A coupons for the section of fans they represented.

The last event of the night was the dunk contest between sophomore forward George Fant, freshman forward Eddie Alcantara and junior forward Kene Anyigbo.

Fant was eliminated in the first round and Anyigbo was chosen by the fans as the winner at the conclusion of the contest.

Harper, about to start his first full year as WKU’s head coach, said he was pleased the turnout from Topper fans — total attendance was speculated to be more than 3,000.

“Great turnout — our fans are unbelievable,” Harper said. “I didn’t know what type of crowd to expect. They were tremendous.”