Lady Toppers upset top team in Sun Belt

Cole Claybourn

There was a sense of relief and elation in Head Coach Mary Taylor Cowles’ voice after Wednesday’s 66-64 win at Arkansas-Little Rock.

Needing a win to prevent the first losing season in Cowles’ tenure as head coach, WKU (11-14, 8-5 Sun Belt Conference) responded by delivering the first blow to UALR’s previously unblemished conference record, giving the Lady Trojans their first home loss of the season.

 “We were so focused. We were so determined,” Cowles said. “I’m just really proud of our girls. They just battled, battled and battled. There’s no other way to describe that.”

The win also ended UALR’s 14-game winning streak and was just the third road win of the season for the Lady Toppers.

But it couldn’t have come at a better time. The win keeps their hopes of a No. 2 seed in the Sun Belt tournament alive.

They also did it without sophomore forward Janae Howard, who left the team on Monday. Howard was the team’s leading scorer and top 3-point shooter.

But even with all the off-the-court issues surrounding the Lady Toppers prior to the game, senior forward Arnika Brown said Wednesday was the most focused they’ve been all season.

“We just stuck to the game plan more than anything,” she said. “Things weren’t just going in one ear and out the other. We were just focused. We’re a team, and we’ve been through this before.

“We just lost Howard a couple of days ago, but this kind of response just shows that we’re still going to hold each other’s hands even tighter.”

Junior forward LaTeira Owens said if anything, Wednesday’s win was a statement.

“I think a lot of people have been turning their backs on us,” she said. “But as long as we have each other, we’re fine.”

Owens said the win boiled down to one thing — having fun. She said the Lady Toppers have been too tense as a team up to this point in the season and just tried to relax on Wednesday.

“That’s what Coach Cowles has been trying to tell us,” she said. “Just have fun, but at the same time focus and play hard.”

Brown said it was the type of game that Cowles has wanted from them all season — a solid effort for 40 minutes. WKU trailed just once in the first half and never fell behind by more than two.

The Lady Toppers held the Sun Belt’s leading scorer, UALR guard Chastity Reed, under her scoring average and had four players score in double figures. They also won the rebounding battle, 43-26, thanks to 13 rebounds by junior forward Teranie Thomas, which tied her career high.

In the big picture, Wednesday’s win will go down as just that — one more in the win column.

The Lady Toppers still need to win at least two more of their remaining three games to have a shot at the No. 2 seed in the tournament, starting first with Saturday’s 2 p.m. game at Louisiana-Lafayette.

Cowles said she knows better than to overlook ULL this weekend, despite its 11-15 record.

“That’s as good a team as we’ll play,” Cowles said. “They play well at home. They’re very athletic, and (Head Coach Errol Rogers) has got them playing extremely hard.”