Lady Tops let late lead slip in ‘disgusting’ loss to Denver

WKU junior forward Keisha Mosley closes her eyes after witnessing senior guard Hope Brown miss the last attempted shot of the game against the Denver Pioneers Wednesday. The Lady Toppers lost 51-50 in Diddle Arena.

Cole Claybourn

For the second straight game, the Lady Toppers had a chance to win at the last second.

But unlike Sunday’s game against Arkansas State – where Hope Brown’s shot with 1.3 seconds left won it – WKU (5-9, 2-1 Sun Belt Conference) missed two shots in the closing seconds to fall to Denver, 51-50, at Diddle Arena Wednesday.

Despite trailing for much of the first half, the Lady Toppers took a 21-20 lead into halftime. They held their lead the entire second half – eventually stretching it to 10 – before Denver outscored them 14-3 in the final 4:40 to regain the lead by one with 13 seconds left.

Head Coach Mary Taylor Cowles said the players weren’t used to having such a large lead that late in the game and said she was disappointed with how they failed to close it out.

“That’s probably the most disheartening game that I’ve coached,” she said. “It’s very, very disappointing. As a matter of fact, it was disgusting. That’s not what our basketball program is made of.”

Denver (10-6, 2-1 SBC) scored with 1:56 left to play after a turnover by senior guard Amy McNear to get within two. Senior guard Hope Brown then missed a 3-pointer late in the next possession, but senior forward Arnika Brown came up with a big rebound to keep the possession alive.

But after winding the shot clock down nearly all the way, Hope Brown turned the ball over, and McNear committed a foul on the other end.

Denver made 1 of 2 free throws to get within one, and on the Lady Toppers’ very next possession, they turned the ball right back over.

WKU turned the ball over five times in that critical stretch and watched Denver’s Kaetlyn Murdoch score eight of her 22 points during it, including what proved to be the game-winner with 13 seconds left.

Cowles called the performance “unacceptable” and said she knows the fans expect, and deserve, much better than that.

“We laid down, and there’s no excuse for that,” Cowles said. “To come out with the kind of momentum we had on Sunday and then to come out today with a lead, and then lay down in our home gym, in front of our fans, is unacceptable in this program.”

The players echoed what Cowles said and called the loss disappointing.

“We saw that we were up seven with three minutes left and we just let down,” McNear said. “We should’ve kept going at them, but we let down.”

Hope Brown said it was the “little things” that led to the late breakdown.

“We were just taking breaks and not sprinting down the floor,” she said. “We didn’t communicate on defense and transition. We didn’t talk over screens.

“We knew they were going to keep going to Murdoch and we didn’t have the help-side pressure.”

The Lady Toppers overcame a 29.6-percent shooting performance in the first half to shoot 37.5 percent in the second half. But they were outscored in the post, 34-22, thanks in large part to Arnika Brown being limited to just 20 minutes because of foul trouble.

She ended up with eight points and seven rebounds, but it was Hope Brown who led the Lady Toppers in scoring with 13 points. She was the only Lady Topper in double figures.

WKU will now turn its focus to Saturday’s game against North Texas, who is 3-13 overall and 0-3 in the Sun Belt.

Cowles said she’s not taking North Texas for granted, especially with how displeased she was after Wednesday’s game.

“They’ll be just as hungry to come in here and get a win,” she said. “But we’re going to start with practice tomorrow and we’re going to make sure that we find a way to not ever let down again.”

Tipoff is set for 11 a.m. Saturday at Diddle Arena.

Other notes: Sophomore forward Janae Howard came out from halftime with a sling on her left arm, but Cowles said she’s unsure about the origin or severity of the injury.

“I haven’t even met with her or any doctors yet about it,” Cowles said.

Howard played seven minutes in Wednesday’s game but didn’t score.