Notes: Lady Toppers ready for ‘battle’ with Arkansas State in semifinals

Junior Jasmine Johnson fights for possession of the ball at the start of the second half of Sunday’s game against Denver . The Lady Toppers won, advancing to the semifinals against Arkansas State on Monday.

Jonathan Lintner

HOT SPRINGS, Ark. — It’s two games down, two to go for the Lady Toppers to earn an NCAA tournament bid.

WKU next faces Arkansas State, the No. 4 seed out of the Sun Belt Conference’s West division, at noon Monday in the semifinal round of the conference tournament after a 65-57 win over Denver at Convention Center Court.

The game will be played in Summit Arena, where the Lady Toppers won their first-round game against North Texas on Saturday.

As for any game before that, Head Coach Mary Taylor Cowles says she’s long since forgotten WKU’s 12-16 regular season.

“We’re 2-0, and that’s where our concentration lies right now,” Cowles said. “We’re trying to achieve something that would be very, very special for this basketball team, and so far they’ve shown me that they really, really want it.”

The Red Wolves dispatched reeling Middle Tennessee on Sunday, which debated whether to play in the tournament after former player Tina Stewart was stabbed and killed on Wednesday.

WKU won its only meeting with Arkansas State this season, a 75-74 overtime battle on Jan. 2 in Jonesboro, Ark.

Sophomore guard Quinishia McDowell led the Red Wolves in scoring that night, but Cowles mentioned senior forward Shay Scott, who averages 11.1 points and 9.4 rebounds per game during the regular season, as the player to watch.

“She’s athletic, she’s big, and she can score around the basket,” said Cowles, who also warned of Arkansas State’s athletic guards. “They create some things.”

Cowles said she delivered a message to the Lady Toppers that they’re in a position that’s familiar for the WKU women’s program — just two games away from an NCAA tournament bid.

“It’s always a battle when WKU and Arkansas State play each other,” Cowles said. “But I like the fact that we’re where we are going into tomorrow.”

Brown playing different role

Senior forward Arnika Brown came into the Sun Belt tournament riding a streak of three straight double-doubles.

Brown was close to making it fourth with a nine-point, eight-rebound performance against North Texas on Saturday. But when it came to a different opponent in Denver — and lockdown defense from the Pioneers’ star forward, Kaetlyn Murdoch — Brown’s production hit a snag.

Brown scored four points and tallied six rebounds in 31 minutes against Denver.

“So 31 minutes — while she only put up four points for us — her presence on the floor creates some attention from the other team,” Cowles said. “It’s just the fact that she’s willing to do what she’s got to do to get her other teammates involved if that’s what it’s going to take for us to win a game.”

Brown also had two assists and three turnovers.

Sunday’s game on local TV

WKU’s game against Arkansas State will air on WKYU-PBS in Bowling Green, according to WKU media relations. has also picked up all Sun Belt tournament men’s and women’s semifinal games.

Should the WKU men beat Louisiana-Lafayette and advance to the semifinals of the men’s tournament, that game will also air on WKYU-PBS.