Do or Die

Kyle Hightower

For 21 Western basketball players, the wait for this weekend has been comparable to a child waiting on Santa.


The only difference is, each of these kids knows what’s wrapped inside those boxes under the tree — guaranteed trips to the NCAA tournament.

And for Western’s men’s and women’s basketball teams, that gift would be worth the wait.

It’s worth it because they know the only way to open those boxes is by winning the six-day Sun Belt Conference Tournament which begins today.

Though both the Western men and women claimed regular season titles this season, neither has the credentials to realistically compete for at-large bids in the NCAA tournament.

They have to win to get in. Everybody does. And everybody knows it.

The Lady Toppers, who have a first-round bye, play the winner of Arkansas Little-Rock and North Texas at 1:30 Saturday afternoon, while the Hilltoppers’ bye will pit them against either Florida International or New Orleans at 8 p.m. Saturday.

For both teams the 2003 Sun Belt tournament is special — and not just because Western is hosting both tournaments together for the first time since 1994.

It’s definitely special for players like senior forward David Boyden, who may actually be anticipating this conference tournament more than his first trip to the NCAA tournament two years ago.

Boyden has been to the NCAA tournament twice, but he has never made it past the first round. If the Toppers don’t win the Sun Belt tournament, he will graduate having never made it to the second round of the Big Dance.

The same goes for women’s senior guard Kristina Covington, whose only trip the NCAA tournament also ended in a less than ideal manner.

The Lady Toppers beat Marquette in the first round before being embarrassed by Duke in the second round.

After battling injuries and short-fused coaches, she’d definitely like another shot at advancing in the brackets.

But second chances will only come with wins.

The presents are under the tree.

Everybody wants the best gift, and they’ll fight and claw for that chance.