WKU seemed to have its second conference win of the season in the bags with 8:50 to play on Thursday in Fant-Ewing Coliseum.
The Lady Toppers held a commanding 45-30 lead on Louisiana-Monroe, having shut down the Warhawk offense all night.
But ULM finished the game on a 23-4 run and pulled off a stunning 53-49 comeback win over the Lady Toppers.
Senior forward Teranie Thomas after the game pinned the loss on WKU’s 25 turnovers and 28.3 percent shooting.
“In the last eight minutes of the game we didn’t take care of the ball and we weren’t finishing at the basket,” said Thomas, who finished with nine points. “We didn’t take care of the ball throughout the whole game and it caught up with us at the end.”
Both the Lady Toppers (3-10, 1-1 Sun Belt Conference) and Warhawks (3-11, 1-0) came into the game averaging 21 turnovers per contest.
Head Coach Mary Taylor Cowles said she told her team the night before the game that the winner of the turnover battle would be the winner of the game.
ULM turned the ball over 15 times on Thursday, 10 less turnovers than WKU.
WKU also had just three assists compared to its 25 turnovers.
“That didn’t put us in very good position to win a basketball game,” Cowles said.
While turnovers hampered the Lady Topper offense throughout, poor shooting proved to be the nail in the coffin for WKU down the stretch.
The Lady Toppers shot just 1-of-18 in the game’s final 8:28.
The late shooting problems were spread across the roster, and included misses by Thomas, senior forwards LaTeira Owens, Keshia Mosley and Jasmine Johnson, senior guard Vanessa Obafemi, sophomore guard Chaney Means and freshman guards Danay Fothergill, Alexis Govan and Ileana Johnson over the last eight minutes.
Meanwhile ULM’s leading scorer, center Larrie Williams, took over offensively late for the Warhawks.
She hit three free throws between the 5:42 and 5:33 marks to cut the WKU lead from 47-34 to 47-37.
Two minutes later Williams notched an assist on a 3 hit by guard Jasmine Shaw that trimmed the Lady Topper lead to 47-42.
Following a missed 3 by Obafemi, Williams hit a jumper to bring ULM within three points.
Guard Christina Gray cut WKU’s lead to one with a layup on the Warhawks’ next possession.
Then after being fouled by Owens with 1:27 to play, Williams hit a pair of free throws to give ULM a 48-47 lead, its first since a 2-1 lead in the first half.
The teams traded free throws over the next minute, and WKU had a chance for the final possession with 14 seconds to play, trailing 51-49.
Fothergill, a 46 percent 3-point shooter for the season, missed a three-pointer that would’ve given the Lady Toppers the lead.
The Warhawks grabbed the defensive rebound and hit two free throws with one second left to clinch a 53-49 win.
Cowles said a Fothergill three-pointer wasn’t a bad shot in the situation.
“Would I run it again for her? Of course I would,” Cowles said. “She’s a great player and a great shooter that’s going to make great shots any day of the week.
“That play is definitely not what this game came down to.”
The late collapse will overshadow what was a dominant Lady Topper defensive performance for much of the game.
ULM didn’t hit its first field goal until guard Shantrell Pierson put back a Warhawk miss with 9:54 left in the first half.
ULM finished the game 18-of-68 from the field, a 26.5 percent clip.
WKU also won the battle on the boards, 52-43.
“I think we did rebound well, I think we did play good defense, I think we just need to make layups and take care of the ball, and our game will be complete,” Thomas said.
Thursday marked the return of two WKU players, Fothergill and Mosley.
Fothergill was making her first appearance since breaking a bone in her foot at the UAB Thanksgiving Classic in late November.
The former Pulaski Southwestern High School standout finished with two points in 14 minutes off the bench.
Meanwhile Mosley was playing her first game after being suspended for the Lady Toppers’ Nov. 21 loss at Texas Tech due to an unspecified violation of team rules.
Mosley finished with 11 points and seven rebounds in 18 minutes off the bench.
The former Purdue Boilermaker was WKU’s lone double-digit scorer.
Meanwhile Williams and Shaw led the Warhawks with 14 and 12 points apiece.
The Lady Toppers won’t play again until a Jan. 4 date with Louisiana-Lafayette in Diddle Arena.
The ULL game will be WKU’s second annual Education Day game, in which local middle school students will receive free admission for the 11 a.m. contest.
Cowles said her team “has no choice” but to go back to practice and work on correcting the mistakes made on Thursday if they’re to beat the Ragin’ Cajuns.
“You’ve got to evaluate and learn,” she said. “And you’ve also got to turn around and prepare and move forward with practice in preparation for the next opponent.”