WOMEN’S BASKETBALL: Back at full strength, Lady Toppers head to Arkansas

Michael Casagrande

Through its first 14 games, Western has been playing with a patch-work roster. Injuries, a suspension and illness prevented a complete Lady Topper team to take the floor as a whole.

Timing could not be any better for Western to finally be at full strength as the Lady Toppers open their Sun Belt season tonight at Arkansas-Little Rock.

“It’s very, very nice,” coach Mary Taylor Cowles said. “It couldn’t come at a better time as we are about to start our second season, so it definitely is a welcome to see them back.”

The absence of freshman guard Charlotte Marshall because of a shoulder injury has limited the depth of the Lady Topper’s front line.

With Marshall on the bench, Western’s post defense had become a weakness.

“I guess everybody who scouts us knows our post defense is the weakest,” senior guard Leslie Logsdon said. “Coming into the Sun Belt season, we have to be ready on the whole floor. Our 1, 2 and 3 have to be just as prepared as our post players.”

With questions on the defensive end, the Lady Toppers will put their nine-game Sun Belt Conference winning streak on the line as they embark on the “Arkansas Swing.”

The Swing includes two games in three days against Sun Belt East Division rivals Arkansas-Little Rock and Arkansas State.

Fortunately for the Lady Toppers (6-8), the Trojans have lost 16 straight conference games.

But while Arkansas-Little Rock (7-7, 0-1 Sun Belt Conference) has not been a power in conference play, the Trojans are riding a wave of momentum. First-year coach Joe Foley has led his team to victories in four of their last five games.

Solid Trojan defense and post play is a concern, Cowles said.

“You can tell just by watching them, he has lit a fire there,” she said. “They are exciting to watch and they play extremely hard, and they are good. It’s not just by luck that they’ve done what they’ve done.”

After their Thursday night date with the Pioneers, Western will travel to Jonesboro for a Saturday match up with Arkansas State.

The Lady Indians (9-4, 1-0 SBC) are 5-1 at home this season in the Convocation Center. In its conference opener, Arkansas State won only its second of 12 meetings with Florida International, 62-60.

The defending conference champions are taking a positive attitude to Arkansas with a full roster and a Sunday 62-54 win over Illinois-Chicago.

Junior guard Camryn Whitaker said the team has a weakness they didn’t have in last year’s title march.

“Inexperience,” Whitaker said. “We’re young. We’re so young. Tiff Porter and Krystal (Gardner) really weren’t freshmen last year, and I don’t consider them underclassmen now … It’s just hard with five freshmen.”

Logsdon is the Lady Toppers’ leading scorer, averaging 15.1 points per game.

Logsdon said its time for the veterans to step up and guide the freshmen.

“Our upperclassmen are trying to step up and be leaders with intensity and defense, and what being champions is all about,” she said. “Only the five upperclassmen know what it takes to get there, and we are trying to show them the way.”

Reach Michael Casagrande at [email protected]