WOMEN’S BASKETBALL: Las Vegas not fabulous for Lady Tops

Michael Casagrande

A spring break trip to Las Vegas was far from a vacation for the Western women’s basketball team.

Its quarterfinal 78-75 loss in the Women’s National Invitational Tournament to Nevada-Las Vegas ended the season and hopes of a postseason title.

“If we had to end our season on a loss, I’m very proud of the girls for how hard they fought,” head coach Mary Taylor Cowles said in a press release. “We left every ounce of effort on the floor tonight, and it was just an unbelievable performance by our ballclub.”

UNLV (26-8) fell to Creighton 72-53 in the title game Monday night.

Junior guard Leslie Logsdon had an opportunity to send the game to overtime, but a pair of 3-point shots were off the mark.

The Lady Rebels took full advantage of some Western foul trouble. Three Lady Toppers fouled out – freshman forward Carla Bartee, freshman guard Charlotte Marshall and sophomore forward Crystal Gardner – sending UNLV to the free-throw line 37 times.

Western made only five of 10 free-throws, while UNLV connected on 27 of 37 attempts.

Gardner said the discrepancy in free-throws could be blamed on Western, not the officiating.

“That’s frustrating,” she said. “Obviously, the officials, it’s their call, so you really can’t blame it on that, even as much as you may want to. We just came up short.”

The Lady Toppers advanced to the quarterfinals after defeating two Conference USA opponents, Cincinnati and Memphis, in Diddle Arena.

The Lady Bearcats took Western to overtime and led most of the game before falling 80-78. A 104-87 win over Memphis provided much less drama, as the Lady Toppers earned their second straight 20-win season.

The UNLV loss stung, junior guard Camryn Whitaker said, but the team took many positives from the WNIT run.

“It was a good learning experience for us,” Whitaker said. “Knowing that most of the girls playing will be back next year. So it helped out tremendously chemistry-wise, getting to play together.”

Only senior guard Elisha Ford will not be back for a Western team that finished 20-14.

With so many returning, Whitaker said the future is bright for the program and the Sun Belt Conference. Sun Belt Tournament Champion Middle Tennessee State, a No. 13 seed, upset fourth-seeded North Carolina in the first round of the NCAA Tournament.

“I think we are a couple of players away from being a top-20 team,” she said. “The Sun Belt is getting to the point where it should get two teams into the NCAA.”

Reach Michael Casagrande at [email protected].