WOMEN’S BASKETBALL: Western defends tournament title Sunday

Michael Casagrande

The specualtion will finally stop and the defending will begin at 1:30 p.m. Sunday. It will be at that time that Western will take the first step towards rereating as Sun Belt Conference Tournament champions.

Louisiana-Lafayette (13-14, 7-8 Sun Belt) will limp into Diddle Arena after losing three games in a row.

Coach Mary Taylor Cowles said the Ragin’ Cajuns are an improved team despite tumbling down the stretch.

“We are very confident in the way that we have been playing, especially winning seven out of the last eight,” Cowles said. “At the same time, we must approach this game like it is the most important game of our season, and I am confident Lafayette will bring everything they’ve got.”

Junior guard Camryn Whitaker said she expects the Ragin’ Cajuns to be a little angry when they hit the floor Sunday.

“I’m sure, coming off those losses they are going to be ready to play,” Whitaker said. “They are going to be excited, especially since they beat us at the beginning of the year … we can’t overlook anybody.”

There is little doubt that stopping Sun Belt Player of the Year favorite Anna Petrakova will be the most important task to accomplish.

Sophomore forward Krystal Gardner will be one of the Lady Toppers assigned to defend Petrakova, who leads the league averaging 18.7 points per game.

“The post will be very crucial in this game,” Gardner said. “We just have to work hard and realize she is going to score because she is a good player.”

Petrakova torched Western (16-12, 10-4) in an 82-70 win Jan. 29 with 23 points. The Lady Toppers will look to deny the ball to the 6-foot-3 junior, Gardner said.

Cowles said they might change a few small details, but they plan on keeping a similar strategy to defending Petrakova.

“The problem is I don’t think we did defend her the first time,” Cowles said. “So maybe we’ll get some defense on her this time.”

The Lady Toppers will also have to keep an eye on Bernette Tolston, who made 5-of-8 3-point attempts.

The strong shooting that the Cajuns showed in their last meeting is something Western will have to be weary of, junior guard Camryn Whitaker said.

“Some of their guards came out and really made some big shots,” she said. “I think it was something we really weren’t expecting.”

Western shot 38.5 percent from the field in the January loss, and solving Lafayette’s 3-2 zone will be a must if it hopes to get away with a win, Whitaker said.

The Ragin’ Cajuns didn’t fare too well in last season’s tournament, falling to Florida International 77-41 in the first round.

Reach Michael Casagrande at [email protected].