WKU falls to UALR in Sun Belt championship, loses out on NCAA berth

Keisha Mosely is comforted after by teammate Chaney Means after WKU’s loss to Arkansas-Little Rock. The Lady Toppers lost the Sun Belt championship game, 66-59.

Jonathan Lintner

HOT SPRINGS, Ark. — Head Coach Mary Taylor Cowles had thoughts of dancing late into March before the Lady Toppers’ Sun Belt Conference Tournament championship game.

Then, as confetti dumped over Arkansas-Little Rock players at Summit Arena’s center court, the music stopped.

WKU (15-17) fell short of an automatic NCAA tournament bid with a 66-59 championship loss to UALR (23-17) on Tuesday after finishing on the wrong end of 13 ties and 15 lead changes.

“There’s definitely disappointment because I truly believed coming into the game that we were going to win this,” Cowles said. “I was already thinking about next Monday night and where we were going to be sitting in Diddle and waiting for our name to appear on the screen, knowing I’d have to figure out which shoes to go dancing in. Obviously that didn’t happen.”

UALR forward Chastity Reed, the tournament’s most valuable player, scored 22 points, including a pair of free throws with 11 seconds left that put the Trojans up an insurmountable two possessions.

WKU scored just two points over the game’s final three minutes after cutting UALR’s lead to 58-57 with 3:07 to play. Senior guards Hope Brown and Amy McNear both missed open looks that would have tied the game before the Lady Toppers were forced to start fouling.

McNear said she’ll remember the end of this season for its positives, not a championship-round loss. She scored 18 of her game-high 24 points in the second half and was named to the all-tournament team.

“We held the rope as we say,” McNear said. “We just battled and fought. It was a great way to go out.”

At 15-17, the Lady Toppers’ season is over — as are the careers of seniors Arnika Brown, Hope Brown and McNear.

“I’m not going to let this one game get me down because we fought,” Arnika Brown said. “I’ve had a great four or five years here.”

Arnika Brown had 17 points and 15 rebounds in her last game. Hope Brown shot 0-of-5 from the field and was held scoreless.

Neither team led by more than seven points throughout the game.

The Trojans took their largest lead of the game with 10:01 to play in the first half, but the Lady Toppers battled back on a 9-2 run to tie at 23-23. And when UALR surged ahead 36-30 out of the half, WKU responded with a 10-0 run to take its largest lead at 40-36.

From there, it was a back-and-forth battle. Cowles said a close score benefited the Lady Toppers.

“When the second half was tight — as tight as it was, that just I felt like continued to play in our favor,” Cowles said. “I thought that was positive for us.”

But WKU threw away multiple opportunities down the stretch.

The Lady Toppers out-rebounded the Trojans, 36-27, for the game and tallied 17 offensive boards. They converted those to just 10 second-chance points.

All in all, Cowles said the Lady Toppers should exude pride after their tournament run. They knocked off North Texas, Denver and Arkansas State as the No. 3 seed out of the Sun Belt’s East division, setting up a championship game between the league’s preseason No. 1 picks.

Cowles said she stressed the adversity WKU had to overcome in the locker room after Tuesday’s game, as well as the character they showed while playing through it.

“I’ve been in this program for a long, long time, and this is not an unfamiliar place to be as far as playing for a championship,” Cowles said. “It was a lot of fun.”


Tuesday’s game marked Arnika Brown’s 49th career double-double. It’s also the second time Brown made the all-tournament team, as she also did in 2008…Junior forward Keisha Mosley tallied seven points and seven rebounds and also made the all-tournament team. Mosley made the Big 10 Conference’s all-tournament team in 2008 while at Purdue.