WKU hoping momentum from Louisville game carries over to conference play

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WKU head coach Ken McDonald directs his team during the second half of WKU’s game against No. 4 Louisville at the KFC Yum! Center on Friday. WKU lost the game 70-60. The Toppers open Sun Belt Conference play Thursday night against Louisiana-Monroe.

Cole Claybourn

WKU had perhaps its best performance of the season against No. 4 Louisville on Friday, leading by as many as eight late in the second half before falling 70-60.

The Toppers (4-9) are hoping that same solid play will carry over into Sun Belt Conference play, which starts Thursday night for WKU with a 7:30 p.m. tip on the road against 1-12 Louisiana-Monroe.

“Even in a loss you can see the confidence that we built up over the first 30 minutes of the game,” Head Coach Ken McDonald said following the loss to Louisville. “That’s important to any team. Going into league play, it is important for us to know we played a very, very tough non-league schedule.

“From this point on we can play with anybody.”

The Warhawks have played a schedule that featured three Southeastern Conference teams and two ranked teams, with their only win being a road win over Nicholls State.

Their led in scoring by senior guard Freddie Brown, a transfer from Kansas State who’s averaging 13 points per game.

Sophomore guard Charles Wilborn is adding 11 points per game.

Statistically, ULM is faring better than WKU, despite their record. Their averaging roughly a point more per game than the Toppers, averaging nearly two more assists per game and are shooting a better percentage (42 percent compared to 38 percent).

McDonald said the Toppers will do their best to not look past ULM, who was picked to finish last in the Sun Belt’s West Division in the Preseason Coaches Poll.

“They’ve been in some basketball games,” McDonald told reporters on Wednesday. “They’re in a transition time with a new coach, so  they’ve been on the losing side. But a dangerous team, they’ve got some transfers and some good guard play.

“We don’t want to be the team that gets them going.”

Perhaps McDonald is cautious not just because of how his team has struggled this season, but also because of what happened the last time these two teams met in Monroe back on Feb. 4, 2010.

WKU suffered its only loss in seven all-time matchups against ULM, falling 67-66.

They’ll get back the services of sophomore forward Stephon Drane, who hasn’t seen playing time since WKU’s Nov. 26 game against Southeastern Louisiana after dealing with a hyperextended knee.

McDonald said on Wednesday that Drane is getting stronger and gaining confidence, so he’ll be available against ULM.

McDonald said the team is taking the “new season” approach as conference play starts.

“That’s what we’re talking about this week — really trying to start off conference play the right way, continue on some of the positives that we had in the Louisville game and really build,” McDonald said “It’s a new season right now, so we’re trying to create a sense of excitement about our year and it is a new time.”