Lady Tops lose to Florida Atlantic for first time in program history

Cole Claybourn

The Lady Toppers left for their Florida swing with a lot of momentum, coming off two lopsided victories at home.

But after two games in the Sunshine State, they’ll head back to Bowling Green with very little momentum to speak of.

WKU (8-13, 5-4 Sun Belt Conference) surrendered 47 second-half points at Florida Atlantic Saturday, falling 79-67 at the Burrow in Boca Raton, Fla.

The loss was Head Coach Mary Taylor Cowles’ first to FAU as WKU’s head coach. In fact, it was the first time that WKU has ever lost to FAU in women’s basketball.

The Lady Toppers beat FAU by 27 in Diddle Arena on Jan. 16.

Cowles said it was a case of the players not accomplishing the goals they set before the game started.

“We’ve done some things to ourselves this year, so I don’t want to take anything away from FAU,” Cowles told WKU’s Big Red Radio. “But we had goals before this game of 15 or less turnovers – we turned it over 23 times. We wanted to out-rebound them by six or more – we got out-rebounded by two.”

FAU (5-15, 2-7 SBC) came into the game shooting 35.7 percent from the field, so Cowles said their goal was to hold them to 36 percent or less. FAU ended up shooting 54.7 percent.

“Those were goals that we felt if we achieved those, we were going to be in a great position to win a basketball game,” she said. “Had we held them to 36 percent shooting, we would have been a whole lot better off.”

Much like they did on Wednesday night against Florida International, the Lady Toppers came out strong in the first half and built a double-digit lead – 13 to be exact. They never trailed in the half, but held just a three-point lead at halftime.

Just before the end of the first half, senior forward Arnika Brown sprained her right ankle after going for a loose ball and had to be helped off the floor.

She did not return to the game, and Cowles said she’s unsure how serious the injury is.

That injury came right in the middle of FAU’s run to close out the first half – one they’d continue in the second. The Owls scored the first four points of the second half to take their first lead of the game.

They continued to stretch their lead, and senior guard Amy McNear picked up her fourth foul with just over 14 minutes left to play. McNear had been the main source of offense for the Lady Tops – scoring 10 points by halftime – and remained in the game for most of the second half with Brown injured.

FAU stretched its lead to 12 midway through the second half, but WKU wasn’t done yet. The Lady Toppers went on an 11-2 run to make it a 60-57 game with 5:47 left to play.

But from there, FAU went on a 10-0 run to go up by 13 – eventually leading by as many as 14 – to secure the win.

It was the second straight game where the Lady Toppers held a double-digit, first-half lead and eventually lost by double digits. Several members of the WKU family were on hand to watch, including Athletics Director Ross Bjork.

“Anything can happen in college athletics,” Bjork said on the postgame radio show. “You let a team hang around in that first half, and they got some confidence, some shots, and then Amy (McNear) obviously being in foul trouble hurt us. FAU was on the ropes, but they responded and they made plays.”

Cowles said FAU went to a 2-3 zone defense for much of the second half, and WKU simply couldn’t overcome it.

“Amy (McNear) got in foul trouble, and we did not handle the pressure,” Cowles said. “We did not handle the zone well. Then with all the adversity with Arnika going down, we just did not respond to that.”

But on the defensive end, the Lady Toppers allowed FAU to shoot 55.2 percent from the field in the second half and surrendered 40 bench points.

“We’re just not buckling down on defense,” Cowles said. “I don’t know, maybe we should start going zone because people are hurting us with it, and we’re not defending well one-on-one.”

After shooting 50 percent from the field in the first half, the Lady Toppers went cold in the second half. They shot just 30.8 percent from the field and were 0-11 from 3-point range.

“We did not shoot the ball well at all,” Cowles said. “We got some great looks, but could not get the ball to drop – especially from the 3-point line.”

McNear said the Lady Toppers’ intensity in the second half didn’t match theirs in the first half.

“We came out aggressive,” she said. “But as the second half went on, we lost that energy and that drive, and FAU took advantage of it. When someone goes down, another player on the bench has to step up and make good plays for us.

“Arnika went down, but OK – we’ve got to keep rolling.”

The Lady Toppers will head back home for three straight games, starting with Wednesday’s 11:30 a.m. game against South Alabama, which will be part of “Spread the Red Education Day.” More than 5,000 students in grades 3-6 from Warren County have been invited to the game.

Cowles said it will be nice for the Lady Toppers to get back home.

“This has been a pretty rough road trip,” she said.

McNear has memorable day

Amy McNear entered Saturday’s game needing just eight points to become the 33rd Lady Topper to score 1,000 points in her career.

She accomplished the feat in the first four minutes, scoring eight of the Lady Toppers’ first 10 points. She led all scorers with 23 points.

McNear is now a member of both WKU’s 1,000 points club and 500 assists club.

Sholtes gets extended minutes

With Brown down with an injury and McNear in foul trouble, freshman point guard Ellen Sholtes saw as many minutes in Saturday’s game as she had all season.

She played 13 minutes and scored just one point, but remained on the floor for most of the second half – even after Amy McNear came back in midway through the frame.