WOMEN’S BASKETBALL: Lady Tops fall in Round 1

J. Michael Moore

ATHENS, Ga. – Tears pushed away smiles.

Most of the Lady Toppers sat motionless in their sneakers after their 64-52 loss to Rutgers March 22 in the NCAA Midwest Regional.

They looked down at the floor, each moving her head with the occasional sniffle, shaking “no” at the defeat.

A Western basketball season filled with new beginnings – a new coach and a new attitude – was finished.

It started rough for the Lady Toppers, who found themselves down nine just two minutes into the game.

But they battled back.

Western (22-9) started the second half on a 15-3 run, taking a four point lead with 11 minutes and 22 seconds to play but eventually faltered in the face of intense defensive pressure.

The Scarlet Knights (22-8) went over seven minutes without a basket in the second half before awaking to retake the lead.

Western was out-rebounded 44-33 in the game – an uncharacteristic number for the Lady Toppers, who had been beat on the glass only six times during the season.

Rutgers got 15 second-chance points, to Western’s six.

“We didn’t put a body on people,” freshman guard Tiffany Porter-Talbert said. “We’re known for out- rebounding our opponents.”

Reese, the Sun Belt Conference Player of the Year, was pleased with her team in the opening minutes of the second half. Western became comfortable in a zone defense with the absence of Rutgers’ All-Big East point guard Cappie Pondexter.

But when it comes to rebounding, Reese questioned intensity.

“Tonight it was just a matter of who wanted the ball better,” Reese said.

She finished with ten points.

Junior guard Leslie Logsdon added a team-high 13 points.

“I think our focus level when the ball was tipped was not where (that of) an NCAA championship needs to be,” Cowles said. “Rebounding wins championships. Period. That was the difference in tonight’s game.”

Western also struggled from the perimeter, going 3-for-16 from behind the arc.

Rutgers retook the lead with 8:58 to play on a three-point basket by sophomore guard Chelsea Newton.

Newton hit again 36 seconds later, nailing a three from the right corner.

The shots were part of an 11-0 Rutgers run.

The Scarlet Knights regained momentum and never looked back.

“The shots that Chelsea threw down were big shots,” Pondexter said. “It gave us the momentum back and we went from there. We had a couple of miscues on the defensive end that let them back in the game. Toward the end, we focused more on getting stops.”

Pondexter came up big again for the Scarlet Knights, finishing with 21 points, ten rebounds and six steals.

Cowles said Pondexter is one of the top-five guards in the country.

“She’s tremendous,” Cowles said. “She is absolutely phenomenal.”

Pondexter and the Scarlet Knight’s defensive pressure held the Lady Toppers down in the closing minutes.

And victory couldn’t have come sooner for Rutgers’ coach C. Vivian Stringer.

“I’m glad that it’s over,” Stringer said. “I’m glad that we won.”

The Scarlet Knights lost their next game to Georgia in the second round.

You can reach J. Michael Moore at [email protected]