Women’s schedule dotted with SEC foes

Josh Buckman

Western’s women’s basketball team will start this season accompanied by an old friend – the title of defending Sun Belt Conference champions.

In that role, the team knows that its opponents will be gunning for them, but they’re not worried.

“I wouldn’t want it any other way,” coach Mary Taylor Cowles said.

Cowles said her team has no trouble scheduling big name schools or getting them to come to Diddle Arena, unlike the men’s team.

One of Western’s most challenging opponents this season will be against Utah at the Fresno State Classic on Nov. 28. Last season the Utes led the nation in scoring defense, allowing just 51 points per game.

Western will also have its hands tied against three Southeastern Conference teams. Ole Miss, Kentucky and Arkansas will all play on the Hill.

But of those three schools, only Arkansas (7-7) had a .500 record in conference play. Kentucky finished 4-10 and Ole Miss was 1-13.

The matchup at Louisville will give the Cardinals a chance to avenge their loss to Western from last season. Louisville held a 20-point lead early on before the Lady Toppers came back to win the game.

Another team that could give the Lady Toppers trouble is Liberty. Liberty was similar to Western last season in that they were the lone representative from their conference, the Big South.

The Flames were undefeated in conference play last year and finished with a 26-3 record. They were ranked 50th in the Ratings Percentage Index, but conference runner-up Elon was 165th.

Overall, the Lady Toppers acknowledge that they must be on top of their game for every opponent this season.

“I think all the games are difficult,” sophomore guard Tiffany Porter-Talbert said. “You cannot go in thinking you are going to win.”

Cowles said having a difficult schedule will help the team.

“We want to play teams outside our conference who will help us prepare for conference play as well as postseason play,” Cowles said.

The Lady Toppers will begin defending their conference title on Jan. 15 against Arkansas-Little Rock. Western already has been picked to finish first in the Eastern Division. They edged Middle Tennessee by three votes, 49-46.

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