Lady Tops enter game ‘mentally unprepared,’ fall to Northwestern

Sophomore forward Janae Howard and senior forward Arnika Brown fight for a rebound during WKU’s home opener against Northwestern on Thursday. WKU lost, 61-54.

Cole Claybourn

Senior forward Arnika Brown and sophomore forward Janae Howard both said the Lady Toppers entered Thursday night’s game against Northwestern unprepared mentally.

And much like Tuesday night’s game against Louisiana Tech, WKU started off slow offensively.

The Lady Toppers (0-2) watched Northwestern (3-0) jump out to a 22-5 lead in the first ten minutes and couldn’t overcome it, eventually falling 61-55 in their home opener.

“We have to find the right mental approach,” Brown said. “If we come in mentally ready and fix the little things, we’re going to be fine.”

For the first 10 minutes of the game, the Lady Toppers simply had no answer for Northwestern center Amy Jaeschke, who scored nine points with four rebounds and two blocks.

But Jaeschke picked up her second foul and was forced to sit with 9:03 left to play in the first half, prompting a 21-6 run by WKU in her absence.

Howard said the players knew they had to capitalize when Jaeschke left the game.

“We were just tired of losing,” Howard said. “We tried to come together as much we could mentally and just put a run together.”

With less than 10 seconds left in the half, WKU scored four points in five seconds off of free throws. The Lady Toppers then forced a turnover with just over a second left in the half and had a chance to take the lead going in to halftime.

Howard hit a 3-pointer as time expired, but the shot was waved off.

The one-point difference was the closest the Lady Toppers would see the rest of the game.

They had a chance to take the lead on the first possession in the second half but opened the second period with five straight missed shots.

Jaeschke then scored on the other end and Northwestern led by three.

Howard said that was a key sequence for the Lady Toppers and said if they would’ve converted and took the lead, it could have had a huge impact on how the rest of the game played out.

“If we would’ve got over that hump, we would’ve busted out completely,” she said. “I’m not saying we would’ve won, but we could’ve at least had a lead and kept it for a decent amount of time.”

Jaeschke picked up her fourth foul with 11:56 left to play, but the Lady Toppers couldn’t put together a run like they did in the first half with her out.

Howard said while Jaeschke was out for the second time, Northwestern started moving more offensively and creating back screens that WKU’s defense couldn’t keep up with.

Cowles said the Lady Toppers’ tendency to bury themselves early in games just makes it that much tougher to get back in to a game.

“Why did they all of a sudden decide to kick it in to gear?” Cowles said. “Why did we all of a sudden decide we were going to start boxing out? How does Western Kentucky out-rebound Northwestern by 11?

“We shot poorly, but we had 21 offensive rebounds. When we decide that we want to play, and we focus, we can be pretty good.”

Howard led WKU with 16 points and five rebounds, and Arnika Brown came off the bench to contribute 10 points and eight rebounds.

Jaeschke finished with 13 points and six rebounds, but Brittany Orban led Northwestern with 20 points and five rebounds.

Brown has seen limited action so far since recovering from a hamstring injury and a stomach virus, but she played 26 minutes on Thursday. Brown said she expected to come off the bench and said it seemed to have ignited a spark in her.

“To be honest, I needed that,” she said. “I needed to sit and just watch. Keisha (Mosley) deserved to be starting, so I hope she continues to bring what she’s been bringing.

“Slowly my game is coming, and I’m just going to keep working and just not worry about it. At the end of the day, I have teammates that are going to back me up and support me.”

Senior guard Amy McNear sat out Thursday while serving the second game of her three-game suspension for an undisclosed violation of team rules. Cowles said she was encouraged to see the team play as well as they did without their senior point guard in the lineup.

The Lady Toppers next play on Sunday at No. 6 Duke.