SBC Tourney a chance for WKU to start anew

Senior forward Keshia Mosley loses a rebound from MTSU guard Kortni Jones during WKU’s final game of the season on Sunday, Feb. 26 in Diddle Arena. WKU lost 77-62.

Brad Stephens

The 2011-2012 season hasn’t been easy for anyone associated with the WKU women’s basketball program, Head Coach Mary Taylor Cowles said.

The Lady Toppers clinched the team’s first-ever 20 loss season on Sunday in Diddle Arena, coming up on the losing end of a 77-62 rout by rival Middle Tennessee State in their regular season finale.

WKU (8-20, 5-11 Sun Belt Conference) also finished 6-7 at Diddle, the team’s first sub-.500 record in the building since 1974-1975.

Cowles has been part of brighter Lady Topper days, going to 10 NCAA Tournaments as either a WKU player, assistant or head coach.

She said this season, the worst by record since 1974-1975 (3-14), has “just been really, really difficult for everybody.”

“For our players, it’s not what they expected,” Cowles said. “It’s not what they came here for.

“Our coaching staff is not used to anything like this. We’ve not had days like this. I can’t describe it. Professionally, it’s been the hardest thing that anyone of us has been through. I’ll speak for myself.”

Yet with the Sun Belt Conference Tournament starting on Saturday in Hot Springs, Ark., the Lady Toppers have the chance ahead of them to make up for an 8-20 regular season.

Just one season ago, WKU went to Hot Springs as largely an afterthought after a 12-16 regular season.

But the Lady Toppers won three straight games before bowing out to Arkansas-Little Rock 66-59 in the Sun Belt Championship Game.

Senior forward Keshia Mosley was a key part in that run, averaging 8.0 points and 6.8 rebounds per game and earning a spot on the All-Tournament Team.

Mosley drew similarities between last year’s WKU team and the 2011-2012 squad.

“We didn’t have a good season, and then you come around, and we’re 0-0 in a tournament,” Mosley said. “That’s how we’re taking it.”

The Lady Toppers will be the East Division’s No. 5 seed in this weekend’s tournament.

Their first-round matchup will come against West Division No. 4 seed Louisiana-Monroe at 12:15 p.m. on Saturday in Hot Springs, Ark.

For WKU to keep its season alive, it will have to avoid a repeat of the teams’ first meeting, a 53-49 Warhawk win in ULM’s Fant-Ewing Coliseum on Dec. 29.

On that night, the Lady Toppers held a commanding 45-30 lead late in the second half before ULM finished the game on a 23-4 run.

The Warhawks went on to a 7-9 league season, good for a tie with North Texas for third place in the West Division.

Like WKU, ULM comes into the Sun Belt Tournament fighting a three-game losing streak.

Should the Lady Toppers get by the Warhawks, No. 1-seed MTSU will be waiting in the quarterfinals.

The Lady Raiders clinched a 16-0 conference regular season on Sunday with their ninth straight win over archrival WKU.

After that game, MTSU Head Coach Rick Insell said the Lady Toppers have a shot for a repeat of their successes from the 2011 Sun Belt Tournament.

“There’s 12 teams in this conference,” Insell said. “Nine of them, including Western Kentucky, have a legitimate chance to win the Sun Belt Conference Tournament. Maybe a lot of you don’t believe that, but that’s what I’m preaching.”