Toppers looking for increased consistency in final league games

Senior forward Juan Pattillo slaps hands with fans at the end of the first half of WKU’s game against North Texas on ESPN2 Saturday in Diddle Arena. WKU won 87-76 and beat Florida Gulf Coast on Monday.

Zach Greenwell

When WKU blew out Louisiana-Monroe two weekends ago — rebounding from a loss to South Alabama two days prior — senior forward Sergio Kerusch chalked up the previous defeat as a bump in the road.

“That was a basketball game,” Kerusch said. “Anything can happen in a basketball game.”

How true that’s been for the Toppers this season.

WKU followed the same pattern last week, first losing to Middle Tennessee on Thursday for the third straight time. The Toppers then rebounded with an 87-76 win Saturday over preseason Sun Belt Conference favorite North Texas on ESPN2.

Head Coach Ken McDonald said WKU has continued to get more and more consistent as the season has rolled on, but that even he’s still not sure what keeps the Toppers on an even keel.

“It’s hard to figure out at times,” McDonald said. “You keep hoping that as a group, we totally understand the focus needed and that we’re running out of opportunities.”

The opportunities McDonald speaks of are chances to undo the damage done by WKU’s 0-4 start in Sun Belt play.

The Toppers won four straight conference games after their rocky beginning and are currently 6-6 in the league — good for third place in the East division.

The Tops hosted Florida Gulf Coast Monday in a non-conference tilt, but McDonald said the team is taking some momentum into its final four Sun Belt games — three of which are on the road.

“Don’t lose focus that we’ve won six of eight,” McDonald said. “We had a stretch of time where we won four in a row, then didn’t play well, then played well, didn’t play well and played well.

“So we’ve gotten some of the consistency back on the right side. Now it’s time to go over the top and keep it.”

Senior forward Steffphon Pettigrew said it’s obvious WKU hasn’t played to its potential for much of the season.

But even though there have been two Thursday night hiccups in the past two weeks, Pettigrew said the Toppers have shown they have the resiliency to shed the losses quickly.

“It’s all mentality,” he said. “We’ve just got to keep the mental focus. It goes back to being consistent. You see the effort and the potential that this team has.

“If we can keep this rolling into the Sun Belt tournament, we can win it.”

Claiming the conference championship will likely mean winning four games in four days for WKU.

The Toppers would have to catch and pass Middle Tennessee for the No. 2 seed in the East division to get a first-round bye, but McDonald said he’s not counting on that to do them any favors.

Because from this point forward, McDonald said it’s “always desperation time.”

“That is part of the leadership that we need, understanding that each game is important,” he said. “We’re still in charge of how this thing ends out, and every game is vital at this point — home and away. We want to go into the tournament playing well.”