WOMEN’S BASKETBALL: Defense key in women’s title game

J. Michael Moore

It’s time for a showdown in the Diddle Arena corral.

The Lady Toppers and the Middle Tennessee Lady Raiders met just 10 days ago to close out the regular season — an 84-73 Western win.

This afternoon’s 3 p.m. match up has a bit more at stake.

The winner rides off into the sunset with an NCAA berth and a Sun Belt Conference Tournament championship in hand.

Both teams are looking for the quick draw.

It will be the third time the two squads have met this season, leaving Western coach Mary Taylor Cowles with little to say.

And even less to hide.

“I don’t think there’s a whole lot of surprises we can pull out of our hat right now,” she said after her team’s 62-53 win over South Alabama yesterday in the tournament’s semifinals.

Middle Tennessee (18-11) gets to the championship via a 65-52 victory over Arkansas State.

Cowles did say her team will have to bring their defense.

The Lady Raiders are one of the more athletic teams in the conference, with a double threat in sophomore guard Patrice Holmes and freshman forward Tia Stovall.

Holmes dropped 26 points against Arkansas State.

“We have to come out and play with a lot of defensive intensity,” freshman guard Tiffany Porter-Talbert said.

Porter-Talbert will be a key in stopping MTSU’s potent offense that looks to drive before taking the jump shot. She led her team with 19 points in the last game against MTSU.

Lady Raider coach Stephany Smith spoke highly of Western’s ability in the last match up, saying that no one expected her team to hang with the Lady Toppers as well as they did.

MTSU won the first meeting between the teams during the conference season opener Jan. 4.

Plenty has changed for Western (21-11).

The Lady Toppers are riding a 13-game winning streak and won’t rest until there are no games left to play.

“We still haven’t reached that ultimate goal,” senior captain Kristina Covington said.

MTSU is appearing in the conference finals for the first time. Smith couldn’t be prouder of the team, which was not favored to make it this far at the beginning of the season.

“Every year and every moment and everything you accomplish, you’ve got to be proud of,” Smith said after the Lady Raiders’ victory yesterday over New Orleans. “Mostly, I’m proud for our kids because they have worked so hard and they are so much fun to work with.”

The Lady Toppers put on a successful defensive show in their last meeting with the Lady Raiders, holding Stovall to one field goal in the second half.

Stovall scored 16 in the first half of that game, forcing Cowles to prepare for every aspect of MTSU’s offense.

“We’ve got to have a complete defensive game plan ready,” she said.

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