Owens, Thomas shine but WKU struggles, loses to UALR

Senior forward Teranie Thomas throws in a leaning jump shot Sunday against Arkansas-Little Rock. WKU lost 50-61.

Brad Stephens

LaTeira Owens and Teranie Thomas did their part for WKU against Arkansas-Little Rock on Sunday.

The two senior forwards teamed up for 38 points on a combined 14-of-26 shooting.

But the Lady Toppers got little production from anyone else and fell 61-50 to UALR in front of 1,223 in Diddle Arena.

WKU (6-13, 3-4 Sun Belt Conference) players not named Thomas or Owens combined for 12 points on 5-of-28 and committed 19 of the team’s 21 turnovers.

“I think we all just need to work on being consistent,” said Thomas, who scored a season-high 16 points off the bench. “(Head Coach Mary Taylor Cowles) always says you never know who’s going to bring it that night and I feel like we need to work on that.”

The Lady Toppers’ offensive reliance on Owens and Thomas was especially evident in the second half.

WKU led 24-22 at halftime but allowed a quick 7-0 run by UALR to begin the second half.

The Lady Toppers never regained the lead, and were outscored 39-26 over the game’s final 20 minutes.

Owens and Thomas scored 21 of those 26 points.

“To say we struggled in the second half would kind of be an understatement,” Cowles said. “I think we kind of laid down in the second half.

“We went in at halftime and talked about some difficulty we had especially at the offensive end to close out the first half. We just were not ready to play when that ball went in play in the second half.”

Despite the Lady Toppers’ offensive struggles they still had a chance to win late, down 55-50 with 2:37 left.

The Lady Toppers had three possessions over the next two minutes down five points but came up empty in each trip.

Those possessions resulted in a pass out of bounds by senior forward Keshia Mosley, a missed layup and missed jumper from Thomas and missed 3 from senior guard Vanessa Obafemi.

“It was very frustrating because we knew we were down five, and we knew we needed to get a stop and make a play on the offensive end,” said Owens, who finished with a game-high 22 points.

Thomas said the Lady Toppers need to “focus in more” when they find themselves in similar late-game scenarios.

“We don’t need to start panicking,” she said. “We need to just focus in on what we’re doing so we can make a play.”

Trojan guard Taylor Ford hit four free throws in the final 45 seconds to seal the win for UALR (10-10, 5-2).

Ford, with 14 points, was one of four UALR players in double figures Sunday.

Guard Taylor Gault scored a team-high 17 points, while forward Janette Merriex added 14 and forward Marian Kursh finished with 12 off the bench.

Merriex in particular hurt the Lady Toppers from behind the arc, shooting 4-of-7 from three-point range.

The Trojans were 4-of-8 overall on second half 3’s, including one by Gault with 18:20 left to give UALR a 27-24 lead it wouldn’t relinquish.

“It was our defense in the beginning of the second half,” Owens said when asked about WKU’s late struggles. “They had seven points there, I think we should’ve just stopped it right after they made that first shot.”

The Lady Toppers were unable to answer that shooting on the other end.

Obafemi, freshman forward Chastity Gooch and freshman guard Alexis Govan were all scoreless Sunday despite playing a minimum of 17 minutes each.

The poor shooting from everyone else was one of the reasons Cowles said she was frustrated Owens was only able to take 11 shots.

“When your posts produce, especially the way LaTeira did, it just makes it a greater emphasis on getting the ball inside,” Cowles said.

Meanwhile Thomas played her best game of the season days after being the only WKU player not to appear in a 71-58 win Tuesday over Tennessee Tech.

Cowles said Thomas didn’t play Tuesday because the matchup with the Golden Eagles wasn’t compatible with her skill set.

On the other hand, Cowles said the Trojans were a perfect matchup for Thomas.

“We knew tonight she could rebound, run the floor, defend and handle pressure,” Cowles said. “After Tuesday’s game, Teranie was as good as it gets in practice because she knows that’s temporary. That’s nothing personal against her, and that’s how you want players to respond.”

The loss snapped a five-game home winning streak for the Lady Toppers.

It was also the team’s third straight defeat in Sun Belt play, coming before a week in which they’ll travel to Florida Atlantic and Florida International.

Owens said the Lady Toppers need to be more mentally ready before the rest of their games than they were Sunday.

“We have to find what motivates us every day,” she said. “We have to find it because it’s going to get later and later in the season and we’re going to be looking at the wall.”