WOMEN’S BASKETBALL: Lady Tops SBC fate still up in air

Michael Casagrande

The Sun Belt Conference Tournament is less than a month away in Diddle Arena and with six league games still on its schedule, Western’s fate is still up in the air.

With the new tournament format, only eight teams will make the field. With the new rules, the Lady Toppers could finish as high as the number one seed, but could also fall out of the top eight and be left out all together.

Sophomore Tiffany Porter-Talbert said Western has momentum heading into the final conference stretch.

“I don’t think we are worried whether we are going to make it or not,” Porter-Talbert said. “We just have to focus on each game.”

The fact that four of their final six regular season games will be played at Diddle Arena is a positive for the Lady Toppers, who have won 10 straight conference home games dating back to last season’s title run.

Western is averaging 1,548 fans per home game, 464 more fans than South Alabama, who has the second highest home attendance average.

The winning streak is not something the team thinks about, associate head coach David Graves said.

“We really don’t take notice of any streaks,” he said. “We take things one game at a time. We don’t rest in the past and we stay in what’s right now.”

Western is tied for second place in the East Division with Middle Tennessee State.

Denver will visit the Hill tonight at 7 in the first of the four home games. The Pioneers (11-10, 4-5 Sun Belt) sit one game behind a three-way log jam at the top of the West Division.

The Lady Toppers are a perfect 5-0 against the Pioneers, including a 77-63 road win last season.

North Texas (9-12, 5-4) is one of the teams sharing the West lead. The Lady Toppers will travel to North Texas for a Saturday showdown with the Lady Eagles.

The Lady Toppers lost in the only two trips they have made to Denton.

Putting points on the scoreboard has not been a problem for Western this season, but keeping its opponents from also lighting up the scoreboard continues to hinder its efforts.

Western is second in the Sun Belt in scoring offense, averaging 68.3 points per game. However, the Lady Toppers sit at the bottom of the conference in scoring defense, giving up an average of 69.5 points per game.

The defense has been poor, but Porter-Talbert said the team is starting to come around on the defensive end.

“Our defense has picked up in the last few games, she said. “We have had a lot more defensive intensity.”

With the end of the season approaching, sophomore forward Krystal Gardner said every team is becoming dangerous.

“Everyone, whether you are number one in the conference or in last place, has to come out ready to play,” she said. “Anybody can beat anybody.”

Pope may be clear

Freshman redshirt Cacie Pope will return home to California this weekend for a bi-monthly MRI.

Pope, who had a rare form of a cancerous brain tumor removed in October, hopes to be cleared by doctors to practice with the team soon.

Reach Michael Casagrande at [email protected].