With 7 minutes, 57 seconds remaining in the first half against New Orleans last Thursday, Western found itself in a hole. Trailing 30-17, nothing seemed to be clicking until coach Mary Taylor Cowles called a timeout.
The second-year coach spoke and her team listened, then responded. The Lady Toppers took to the floor following the timeout with a new attitude that resulted in an 84-60 win over the Privateers. It carried over when the Lady Toppers downed South Alabama 66-52.
?After facing the 13-point deficit against New Orleans, Western outscored New Orleans and South Alabama 133-82 to move into second place in the Sun Belt Conference East Division.
The pair of wins has moved Cowles’ team in the right direction as it prepares for two games away from friendly Diddle Arena, Cowles said.
“It was huge,” she said. “It gives us a ton of momentum. If nothing else, it gives us confidence. Let’s hope we can take this momentum, package it up, and take it on the road with us.”
WKU 84, UNO 60
Following the game, Athletic Director Wood Selig congratulated Cowles on the impressive come-from-behind win.
A grin entered the coach’s tired face as she offered a response.
“I’m definitely earning my pay with this year’s team,” Cowles said
Freshman forward Carla Bartee was the game’s high scorer with 20 points on 9-for-12 shooting from the field.
After several disappointing performances, junior guard Camryn Whitaker showed flashes of her old self as she had nine assists and eight points in the win.
Being able to create for her teammates is priority number one, Whitaker said.
“I realize I have to penetrate and dish the ball to my teammates,” Whitaker said. “That’s my job.”
WKU 66, USA 52
While the victory over New Orleans was encouraging, Saturday’s rout of South Alabama was momentous.
The Lady Jags were on top of the Sun Belt West Division and winners of 14 of their last 15. But like the last 11 times a Sun Belt team entered Diddle Arena, the Lady Toppers prevailed.
Unlike the New Orleans win, Western jumped on South Alabama early. With only 14:21 reading on the first half clock, Western held a 17-2 lead on the previously dominant Lady Jags.
South Alabama coach Rick Pietri said he was disgusted with the way his team took the floor.
“Western basically kicked us today,” he said. “We came out playing like we were going to a picnic. Western came out like they were playing basketball.”
Rebounding has hurt Western in the past few games, but it was work on the boards that led to the early advantage. The early run came as a relief after the slow start Thursday night, Cowles said.
“Tonight was the first time we were ready,” Cowles said. “Our girls did a great job getting ready to play.”
Only seven minutes into the game, Bartee had seven rebounds and by halftime, Western held a 31-15 rebounding advantage.
The Lady Jags gave Western plenty of rebounding opportunities as they connected on only 6 of 31 field goal attempts for a 19.4 field goal percentage.
Western will travel to 9-7 Louisiana-Lafayette Thursday and then to 8-8 New Mexico State Saturday for conference play.
Reach Michael Casagrande at [email protected]