Lady Tops return to SBC finals

Michael Casagrande

There have been 83 Sun Belt Conference basketball games played since Western met Middle Tennessee State in last season’s tournament championship game.

Those 83 games now seem irrelevant as the same two teams find themselves in the title game again today at 3 p.m. in Diddle Arena.

Western (18-12) ensured itself an opportunity to defend its title by beating New Mexico State 71-56 in yesterday’s semifinal. MTSU escaped its semifinal game with a 64-61 win over Denver.

“Once again, we are exactly where we want to be,” coach Mary Taylor Cowles said. “We’ve found a way to place ourselves in the championship game of the Sun Belt Conference Tournament. We are just really excited.”

For the second time in as many postseason games, freshman forward Carla Bartee led the Lady Toppers with 18 points and eight rebounds, but it was 3-point shooting by senior guard Leslie Logsdon that propelled Western into the finals.

All four of Logsdon’s 3-pointers came in a 30-minute stretch in which Western outscored the Aggies 39-14.

“When we need a 3-point shot, my team is looking for me,” Logsdon said.

Western’s touch from the outside was not matched by NMSU (13-16), who made only five of its 27 three-point attempts.

The Aggies’ 18.5 3-point shooting percentage was due in large part to the Lady Topper defense that limited Princess Moore to 1 of 8 shooting from behind the arc. Moore, NMSU’s second-leading scorer, managed only three points.

“We really did a good job on her defensively,” sophomore guard Tiffany Porter-Talbert said. “She is a good player and she is one of the assets of their team that we had to contain.”

The Aggies did have the momentum early in the game as they led by as many as six before Western rallied.

NMSU coach Darin Spence said he was happy to have made the semifinals after they almost didn’t qualify for the tournament.

“We wanted to give ourselves a chance, and we did that early,” Spence said. “We just couldn’t sustain that. We got beat by a good team on their home floor … We just kind of hit a wall.”

Nicole Black, who was one of seven Aggies playing her final collegiate game, was the leading scorer with 19 points.

Western has lost only once in their last 10 games since falling to NMSU 73-70 on Jan. 31.

Reach Michael Casagrande at [email protected].