Notes: Cowles talks pressure, lack of focus, Education Day

Head Coach Mary Taylor Cowles talks to her team during the Lady Toppers’ win over Troy on Jan. 22. WKU has lost two straight games since, falling to 8-13.

Cole Claybourn

The Lady Toppers are coming off two straight double-digit losses to teams they had never lost to in program history.

And with that, Head Coach Mary Taylor Cowles said she’s feeling pressure to “right the ship.”

“There’s always pressure in college athletics,” Cowles said. “But we have seven games left and a conference tournament to play. So we’re continuing very, very strong, and we’re trying to get it righted.”

Cowles also acknowledged that it’s her job to keep the players upbeat and prevent them from getting down on themselves.

“You just continue to coach them,” she said. “These student-athletes at this level are pretty resilient. They’ve been through controversy all their life. That’s what you do when you play a sport. Sometimes you win, sometimes you lose.

“They are very understanding of, ‘We have to continue on with the fight.’ There’s no quit in them. I think you have to compliment them as student-athletes. That’s part of their makeup. Quitting is not an option. We have to continue forward.”

The two losses in Florida weren’t the only blows to the Lady Toppers on the trip. Senior forward Arnika Brown suffered a sprained right ankle and missed the second half of Saturday’s game at Florida Atlantic.

Cowles said she’s unsure of the severity of the injury, and it hasn’t been determined whether Brown will be able to play in Wednesday’s game against South Alabama.

“I’ve continued to talk with the trainer, and treatment is being administered,” Cowles said. “But I’ve not gotten a definite one way or the other. I know the picture that we had taken yesterday was clean and everything is in great shape, but you never know with those ankle sprains.”

Players talk about lack of focus

There was some symmetry in both of the Lady Toppers’ games last week against Florida International and FAU.

In both games, the Lady Toppers held double-digit leads in the first half, only to watch them slip away and eventually lose by double digits.

Senior guard Amy McNear attributed the second-half letdowns to a lack of focus.

“We come out in the second half, and we don’t have the same intensity that we started with in the first half,” she said. “We just come out relaxed. I think that we think we have a big lead and we have the game won, and we shouldn’t do that.”

Even with just a three-point lead at halftime against FAU, McNear said the players still came out in the second half with that same mindset.

“We just stopped working hard defensively,” she said. “They just started scoring and making transition points, and we didn’t respond to it.”

Much of the focus this season has been on starting the game strong.

But McNear said WKU may have overemphasized that and needs to focus more on playing complete games instead.

Cowles said she’s wondered if the players are expending too much energy in the first half and are lacking energy in the second half.

She also said the lack of focus is “puzzling” to her, especially with so many upperclassmen on the roster.

“We’ve lost that focus in different ways and at different times,” she said. “We’ve lost it when we’ve had the lead at halftime. We’ve lost it when we’ve not played well in the first half and then backed it up by not playing well in the second half. We’ve gained it in the second half when we’ve not had it the first half.”

Lady Tops preparing for “Education Day”

Wednesday will be a busy day for WKU athletics. Aside from football National Signing Day, the women’s basketball team will play an 11:30 a.m. game that will be part of “Spread the Red Education Day.”

Athletics Director Ross Bjork said he’s expecting about 5,800 students from grades 3-6 to be in attendance for the game.

Cowles said she and the players are looking forward to the unique experience that the game will bring.

“It’s going to be a lot of fun,” she said. “It’s such a different idea. That’s what I think makes it so fun. I don’t know if anyone is going to be prepared for how loud it will be there.”

McNear said having that many people at the game will be a big energy boost for them.

“Kids are already loud and excited, so we’re going to feed off that, and it’s going to get us pumped for the game,” she said.