No. 6 Duke too much for Lady Toppers on the road

Cole Claybourn

The Lady Toppers finally got the hot start they were searching for in their first two games.

But they couldn’t keep the intensity going for 40 minutes on Sunday, eventually falling 82-55 at No. 6 Duke.

WKU (0-3) trailed by just two points with 10:51 left in the first half, but Duke (3-0) went on a 15-5 run that stretched over six minutes to increase the lead to 12, and the Blue Devils finished the first half with a 17-point lead.

From there, Duke’s lead only grew. The Blue Devils opened the second half with a 16-3 run and eventually stretched the lead to as many as 31. The closest the Lady Toppers came after that was 24 points.

Despite that, Head Coach Mary Taylor Cowles said she was happy to see her players ready to play from the start.

“We knew they were focused before we got on the floor today,” Cowles said. “We just have to learn how to maintain it.”

For the first time since the 2001-2002 season, WKU begins a season 0-3.

The Lady Toppers found some positives in Sunday’s performance. Sophomore forward Janae Howard called it the best start that the team has had all year.

“We came out more focused this time, and we knew what we were up against,” Howard said. “We accepted it and just got our minds together.”

But the Lady Toppers, playing their third game without suspended senior point guard Amy McNear, still struggled with turnovers much like they did in the first two games. They committed 33 turnovers — a combined 16 by guards Chaney Means and Hope Brown — and allowed Duke to score 28 points off of turnovers.

“That continues to haunt us in these first three games,” Cowles said. “We’re turning the ball over way too much and not giving ourselves opportunities offensively to score. We turned the ball over 33 times. That’s 33 times we had the ball and didn’t get a shot opportunity.”

WKU also shot 38 percent from the field and 33 percent from 3-point range.

However, the Lady Toppers only lost the rebounding battle by four despite being “outmatched” against a much bigger Duke team.

Cowles said junior forward LaTeira Owens, who had nine total rebounds, was “huge” on the boards for WKU.

“We were definitely outmatched, but we battled on the boards,” Cowles said. “Both offensively and defensively, I felt like LaTeira showed everybody that she deserved to be here.”

Cowles said she was also happy that senior forward Arnika Brown was able to put together her second good performance in a row after struggling in their first game against Louisiana Tech. Brown scored 11 points and grabbed seven rebounds in 21 minutes.

“She was huge for us in the second half,” Cowles said. “From a confidence standpoint, she’s getting very comfortable again and healthy. Hopefully we’ll see that Arnika Brown continue.”

Now that WKU’s learned how to start, Cowles said it’s just a matter of time until the Lady Toppers put together a complete game. But Cowles said to do that, she needs to see everyone playing well, unlike on Sunday.

“We are a team, so we need everybody,” she said. “On the night when everyone shows up, we’re going to be pretty good.”

Howard led WKU with 15 points – all 3-pointers – and Owens added 14 points to her nine rebounds.

Duke had three players in double figures and was led by Haley Peters’ 17 points.

The Lady Toppers next play in the first round of the Central Florida Thanksgiving Classic against Michigan State at 11 a.m. on Friday in Orlando, Fla.