Senior Night disappoints Lady Toppers

Junior center Jasmine Johnson and senior forward Arnika Brown fight for a rebound against Florida International on Senior Night in Diddle Arena. Brown had a total of 10 rebounds and 15 points and was the leading scorer for the Toppers. WKU lost 75-62.

Cole Claybourn

Senior forward Arnika Brown summed up the Lady Toppers’ 75-62 loss to Florida International on Wednesday’s Senior Night in one word: frustration.

What was supposed to be a celebratory occasion for three seniors who have been a part of 75 wins over the past four years turned bitter.

It was just the third time in the last 30 years that the Lady Toppers have lost on Senior Night and the first time since 2001, when they were upset by Arkansas State.

“What did go right tonight?” Brown asked. “You could look at (senior guard) Amy (McNear) and tell she got frustrated. You could look at (senior guard) Hope (Brown) and tell she got frustrated. At times, you could tell I got frustrated.

“I know it was Senior Night and all that, but at the end of the day, even if it wasn’t Senior Night, I’d still be frustrated because me and my teammates — we didn’t get it done.”

But the frustration for the Lady Toppers goes beyond just one game.

It comes near the end of what’s been an uncharacteristic year for WKU women’s basketball, to say the least.

The loss ensured that the Lady Toppers would finish the regular season with a losing record for the first time since the 1981-82 season, and it diminished WKU’s hopes of claiming a No. 2 seed in the Sun Belt tournament and a first-round bye.

The Lady Toppers still have a chance at a No. 2 seed, but they’ll have to rely on help from FIU.

FIU will first have to lose at home to Troy on Saturday, and WKU will have to win on Sunday at Middle Tennessee.

Brown’s disappointment in the outcome was visible after the game, as she tried to fight back tears.

She said the loss stung, but she said when she looks back at the bigger picture, one loss isn’t going to determine her memories that she’s made over the past four years.

“I was blessed with the second opportunity that I had,” Brown said. “I have a great coach. She’s not just here for me and basketball because I’m a good ballplayer … she’s here for Arnika. She’s a great person and a great woman.”

McNear said she too will leave WKU with nothing but good memories.

“I’ve been here for four years, so this is going to be hard to go away from,” she said. “Bowling Green is a great city and a great environment to be around.”

It’s no different for Head Coach Mary Taylor Cowles. She said she’ll remember this senior class for how much they grew as individuals both on and off the court throughout their four years.

“The best thing is that these three are going to walk out of here with degrees,” she said. “That’s ultimately what this success story is all about.”

Even with the loss and a first-round bye up in the air, the Lady Toppers’ season is anything but over.

That was Cowles’ message to the team after the game, especially the seniors.

Cowles found herself in a very similar situation as a senior at WKU in 1991 when the Lady Toppers lost to Alabama-Birmingham on Senior Night.

But she said that team knew losing on Senior Night didn’t mean the end of the season.

“Shortly after that, we had to go to UAB and play the conference tournament and beat them on their home floor in the championship game,” she said. “So while it’s very, very difficult, and very disheartening, we still have an opportunity out there.”