Lady Toppers headed to championship with win over Arkansas State

Chaney Means hugs teammate Ellen Sholtes after beating Arkansas State, 55-47, on Monday. The Lady Toppers will play tomorrow for the Sun Belt Conference championship Tuesday on ESPNU.

Jonathan Lintner

HOT SPRINGS, Ark. – WKU hadn’t won three games in a row this season, much less three in three days, coming into the Sun Belt Conference Tournament.

All things considered, you can’t blame Head Coach Mary Taylor Cowles for feeling a little “overwhelmed” heading into the tournament’s championship game.

The Lady Toppers (15-16) continued their improbable Sun Belt tournament run on Monday with a 55-47 win over Arkansas State (18-14) in Summit Arena.

“I think all of us were frustrated, knowing our regular season was not the kind of season we wanted, and we knew that we had one opportunity left to do something about that,” Cowles said. “Just a big compliment to these ladies — they could have laid down on Saturday at noon when we tipped it up and said, ‘This season has been what it’s been, and therefore let’s just let it get over with.’

“Instead they chose to go the other way with it and make something of it.”

The Lady Toppers knocked off North Texas, Denver and Arkansas State en route to the championship game, where they’ll meet Arkansas-Little Rock on Tuesday at 1 p.m. for a bid in the NCAA tournament.

To get to this point, they held the Red Wolves scoreless for the last six minutes of Monday’s semifinal game to hold on for the win.

Senior forward Arnika Brown scored 18 points and grabbed 11 rebounds to lead WKU. Her layup with 8:31 to play proved to be the go-ahead basket, propelling the Lady Toppers to the tournament final for the first time since 2008.

Brown said simply after the game that “this is where we’re supposed to be.”

“It’s very emotional, but we can’t really let that show right now,” Brown said. “We’re pretty much going to focus and do what we have to do to win tomorrow, and then…that emotion will come out.”

Junior forward Keisha Mosley had a double-double off the WKU bench with 13 points and 11 rebounds. Mosley, who was 6-of-7 from the field, tallied nine of those points in just eight first-half minutes.

“I just think this is exciting for us as a program,” said Mosley, a Purdue transfer. “Like coach Cowles said, we’re used to this. This is something we should be able to get back to.”

Arkansas State jumped out to a 14-7 first-half lead before WKU rallied back on an 8-0 run to move ahead 15-14 and used an 18-5 run over almost eight minutes to lead 25-19.

Arkansas State guard Shania Hurst led the Red Wolves in scoring with 15 points. Their star, forward Shay Scott, scored 10 points and fouled out of the game with 1:55 to go and Arkansas State trailing 52-47.

The frontrunner changed 12 times throughout the game, with neither team leading again by more than five points until WKU stretched ahead by eight points at the final buzzer.

Brown thanked the team’s strength coach, Joey Carnes, for the Lady Toppers’ late defensive holds.

“Our coach has been stressing all year that when it gets down to the nitty gritty, we’ve got to kick it into another gear,” Brown said. “That’s basically what we did.”

Playing off Brown’s praise for Carnes, Cowles said she doesn’t expect the Lady Toppers to let up with a championship at stake.

“They’re 17 to 23 years of age, and I don’t think they think about stuff like that,” Cowles told reporters. “You and I? We’d probably have trouble with four games in four days.”


The Sun Belt tournament championship game will be broadcast on ESPNU and…Senior guard Amy McNear, who scored 25 points against North Texas on Saturday, had just five against Arkansas State…Outside of Brown and Mosley, the rest of the Lady Toppers totaled 24 points.