WOMEN’S BASKETBALL: Lady Tops to defend tourney title today

Michael Casagrande

The afternoon and evening of March 11, 2003 was one of great joy for Western and great sorrow for Middle Tennessee State.

The Lady Toppers claimed the Sun Belt Conference title in a 86-83 win over the Lady Raiders in the afternoon game.

Later that evening the Western men’s team rocked Diddle Arena and the Raiders, completing the MTSU sweep by claiming a pair of conference crowns.

The site may be the same this season, but the circumstances have changed going into “Championship Tuesday.”

While coach Darrin Horn’s team can do little but watch a new champion be crowned for the first time in three years, the Lady Toppers are still vying for a championship.

Western may have to play without its only senior in its repeat effort. Forward Elisha Ford had to be helped from the floor with 4 minutes 16 seconds remaining in yesterday’s 71-56 win over New Mexico State.

Ford pulled a muscle in her hip with the Lady Toppers leading 65-43. Sports information said her participation in today’s matchup will be a “game-time decision.”

Ford may be the only senior, but coach Mary Taylor Cowles has been impressed with the maturity her team has shown during its first two tournament wins.

“Both days, I’ve walked into the locker room and there is just this calmness with no reaction, no high-fives,” Cowles said. “They keep telling me, ‘coach Cowles, we’re not there yet, we’re not there yet.’ They just promise me after tomorrow’s game they will get excited and get hyped and cheer and high-five.”

This season, the Lady Raiders enter the women’s championship game with the better record and incentive.

They will try to avoid losing three games in the same season to their closest conference rival.

MTSU will have to do so on a floor that has been anything but friendly to Sun Belt teams playing Western.

The Lady Toppers are 19-24 in Sun Belt Tournament games played in Diddle. Western has made it to the title game in all seven previous Diddle stops and won four.

The two Western wins over MTSU have been key to its 9-1 record since January.

A 70-68 double-overtime win in Murfeesboro, Tenn., Feb. 5 started the run and the 79-71 win Feb. 26 came after falling behind 15-2.

The Lady Raiders made it to today’s final after surviving a late scare from No. 8 seed Denver in yesterday’s semifinal.

MTSU held a three point lead with 53 seconds remaining. The Lady Raiders extended the lead back to six when Denver’s Ragen Neblet made a 3-pointer at the final horn to make the final score 64-61.

Junior guard Leslie Logsdon said Western will try to speed up the pace of the game against the Lady Raiders.

“I don’t think anyone can keep up with us in our transition game,” she said. “So if we come out today just like we have in the last two days and we get up and down the floor, I don’t think anybody can stop us.”

Reach Michael Casagrande at [email protected].