Long stay at home gives Toppers confidence

Zach Greenwell

The first month of the season wasn’t much of a morale boost for WKU.

The Toppers finished their non-conference slate at 5-7, a disappointing result that spilled into a 0-4 start in the Sun Belt Conference.

But after completing a road sweep in Florida last week and now entering a lengthy home stand, WKU’s starting to get some swagger back.

“You know the old cliché, ‘Work hard and good things are going to happen,’” Head Coach Ken McDonald said. “It just takes one game to get you going, and you start to gain some confidence. We’re not perfect by any stretch, and we have a long way to go, but there have been some definite positives.”

WKU has four straight home games before Feb. 15.

The Toppers host three Sun Belt schools — including Louisiana-Monroe on Saturday — and Florida Gulf Coast during that stretch, giving them a chance to either separate or fall into the pack in league play.

“I expect it to be a home-court advantage,” McDonald said. “Our fans have been great in staying with us, and we’re still a work in progress. But we’re starting to put a product out there that fans can be proud of, with the effort, hustle and teamwork. I want the fans to see a team they’re excited about coming out and supporting.”

McDonald said WKU’s confidence has grown as the players have started to see the “light at the end of the tunnel.”

That’s shown in several different areas for the Toppers, including free throw shooting. After shooting 59 percent from the charity stripe through their first 16 games, WKU made 62-of-77 free throws in its next four contests — good for 80.5 percent.

“It gives you a lot of confidence,” senior forward Juan Pattillo said. “But I really don’t feed into whether I’m making free throws or missing free throws. I just go through the same routine every shot, and sometimes they all look good to me.”

McDonald said he’s still trying to get the whole team to share that confidence and efficiency on offense, but things are starting to come together.

“There’s a lot more hustle, getting to the ball and contesting shots,” he said. “On the offensive end, we’re playing with our heads more. We’re taking care of the ball, we’re not taking as many bad shots, and we’re getting on the offensive glass.”

The Toppers survived one of the hardest tests — finding that cohesiveness on the road. Senior forward Steffphon Pettigrew said it’ll be easier to build momentum at home, even if it means getting back to some old routines.

“We’re sharing the ball and just moving the ball — just getting everybody great shots,” Pettigrew said. “I’m just not looking forward to school though.”