Notes: ‘Hottest team’ in the Sun Belt up next for WKU

Senior forward Juan Pattillo fights for the ball against Louisiana-Monroe defenders. The Toppers won and will play Louisiana-Lafayette on Sunday in the Sun Belt tournament.

Jonathan Lintner

HOT SPRINGS, Ark. — Every day from now until Tuesday could mark the last for WKU’s three seniors.

Senior forward Sergio Kerusch said the Toppers plan on playing like it.

“When you get a wild animal against the wall, it’s just vicious,” Kerusch said. “It’s that type of thing. We know if you lose one, you go home. And I don’t think we’re ready to go home.”

After a 66-50 win over Louisiana-Monroe on Saturday, the Toppers meet Louisiana-Lafayette, the No. 2 seed out of the Sun Belt Conference’s West division, at 6:30 p.m. CT Sunday in the second round of the conference tournament.

The Ragin’ Cajuns are 14-14 but enter Sunday’s game having won their last 11 games.

Head Coach Ken McDonald said Lafayette is probably “the hottest team in our conference.”

“We’re going to have to play a good, 40-minute basketball game to give ourselves a chance at the end of the game to be on the right side of it,” McDonald said.

One of the Ragin’ Cajuns’ last 11 wins was a 67-64 win over the Toppers on Feb. 19 in Lafayette. WKU trailed by 17 points in the second half of that game before storming back to within striking distance.

Senior forward Steffphon Pettigrew said a better start will be necessary the second time around.

“They came out with a good start on us, and we had to fight back,” Pettigrew said. “We need to come out, throw the first punch and play two halves.”

Sunday’s game will be played in Summit Arena, as opposed to the Convention Center Court where the Toppers won on Saturday and shot 22-of-53 for the game.

The Ragin’ Cajuns haven’t played since notching a win over Monroe on Feb. 26. McDonald said WKU has no choice but to move on after a gritty win on Saturday and rest up for another on Sunday.

“Do we have a choice?” he asked. “Unless they give us an extra day off, we don’t have a choice. I’m not buying that we’re going to be too tired to play inspired basketball tomorrow.”

Three Ragin’ Cajuns average double figures, led by freshman forward J.J. Thomas’ 11.7 points per game.

Kerusch said WKU matches up pretty evenly with Lafayette at every position, making Sunday’s game a battle of wills.

“It’s just going to come down to who wants it the most, and it’s going to be a great battle,” he said. “May the better team win.”

Pattillo has added motivation

Senior forward Juan Pattillo was the only senior among the three left on WKU’s team not to make the Sun Belt’s All-Conference team.

Kerusch said Pattillo definitely had that in mind on Saturday during his 18-point, six-rebound performance.

“He most definitely should have been on that list in my opinion, and he just took it straight to heart because he played his butt off tonight on both ends,” Kerusch said. You’ve got to give him the kudos.”

Pattillo averaged 13.3 points and 9.1 rebounds per game during WKU’s regular season.

McDonald said he too noticed a difference in how Pattillo played, saying he was “locked in on defense” in addition to offense.

Double the milestones for Pettigrew

Steffphon Pettigrew won his 90th game as a Topper and eclipsed 1,500 points in his career in the same game.

Pettigrew scored 15 points and had 10 rebounds in WKU’s win over Louisiana-Monroe on Saturday.

He’s the 14th player in program history to score 1,500 points.