Slumping Lady Tops search for answers to second half woes

Senior forward LaTeira Owens tries to take a rebound from South Alabama on Feb. 4 in Diddle Arena. WKU lost 56-52.

Brad Stephens

The Lady Toppers have learned the hard way the importance of 40-minute basketball over the last two weeks.

Four times since Jan. 22 they’ve trotted off into the halftime locker rooms leading their opponents.

And all four times WKU has watched its opponent grab control of the game and send the Lady Toppers (6-16, 3-7 Sun Belt Conference) to another league loss.

The latest second half debacle for WKU came on Saturday in a 56-52 loss to South Alabama in Diddle Arena.

The Lady Toppers controlled play for the first 20 minutes against the Jaguars, leading 29-21 at halftime.

But WKU hit just five shots in the second half while being out-rebounded and, according to South Alabama Head Coach Rick Pietri, out-energized.

“I knew they were going to have a lot of energy in the first half, and we didn’t match theirs,” Pietri said of WKU. “…But we had a burst. It wasn’t an X-and-O issue. Just a desire issue.”

The Lady Toppers don’t get much time to figure out these problems, either.

They head to Murfreesboro, Tenn., on Wednesday for a 7 p.m. date with Sun Belt rival Middle Tennessee State, the league’s best team so far in 2011-2012.

The Blue Raiders go into Wednesday’s meeting 10-0 in league play and 19-5 overall.

They’ve dominated Sun Belt play and gotten big wins outside the league, including a 70-58 win over No. 6 Kentucky on Dec. 28.

MTSU, which has beaten WKU in seven straight meetings, is led by Ebony Rowe, Lexington native and former Dunbar High School standout.

Rowe, the Sun Belt Preseason Co-Player of the Year, averages 17.1 points and 9.5 rebounds per game.

She’ll be matched up with the Lady Toppers’ leading scorer, senior forward LaTeira Owens.

Owens averages 11.4 points per game and scored a team-high 14 against South Alabama on Saturday on 5-of-8 shooting.

But when looking at the stats sheet Head Coach Mary Taylor Cowles expressed frustration that Owens was only able to take just eight shots, including just one during WKU’s second half collapse.

“We still didn’t find a way to get LaTeira Owens the basketball,” Cowles said. “And when she’s 5-of-7 in the first half and ends the game with one additional shot attempt, there’s something wrong with that.”

In addition to getting more touches for Owens, the Lady Toppers will also have to get back to their typical rebounding ways to reverse the second half trend.

WKU has dominated opponents on the glass all season, ranking second in the Sun Belt with a +6.5 per game rebounding margin.

But the Lady Jags out-rebounded the Lady Toppers 37-30 on Saturday, including a 23-11 margin in the second half.

Meanwhile, Cowles continues to look for solutions through different lineups.

Saturday, she swapped freshman guard Alexis Govan into the lineup for fellow freshman guard Ileana Johnson, who never appeared.

It was the ninth starting lineup for WKU this season.

Owens said she didn’t think the changing rotations were a factor in the Lady Toppers’ inconsistencies.

“It’s frustrating because the coaches are trying to find something that can get us going and keep us over this hump that we have,” Owens said. “It’s frustrating. We’re going to try and figure it out in practice.”