OUT OF BOUNDS: The word ‘easy’ hasn’t defined this season for Western basketball

Kyle Hightower

If you put one foot in Diddle Arena Tuesday and expected either of Western’s basketball teams to just gallop through their respective Sun Belt title match ups, then roll up a blank NCAA tournament bracket and smack yourself in the back of the head with it.

Easy wins? Are you kidding me? This season?

Don’t think so.

Easy is for beginners.

Easy is for those who haven’t faced adversity.

Easy is for people who can’t get across the street when they play Frogger.

Easy hasn’t been the word to describe Hilltopper and Lady Topper basketball in 2002-2003.

It hasn’t been easy or pretty by any wild stretch of the imagination.

It’s been an unconquerable spirit that has driven these teams.

And it’s been out of the bludgeoning of chance that even when their heads were bloodied, they remained unbowed.

I even overheard a conversation two fans were having the other night, with one fan screaming emphatically at the other about how the women did have it easier than the men this year.

Let’s examine.

To start, the women only had to tip-off the season months removed from exorcising the ghost of Shawn Campbell. Oops, forgot about that, didn’t you?

Oh, and there was the horror of watching yet another shooting star in (probable starting point guard) Camryn Whitaker go down to the Wicked Witch of the anterior cruciate ligament tears.

She became the fourth Lady Topper on the current roster to tear her ACL.

Not too easy after all.

No way the championship game should have been an 86-83 nail chomper, you say? This is the team that beat its former nemesis, Louisiana Tech, for the first time since the Lady Techsters left the Sun Belt.

True. But less we all forget, this Lady Toppers team was also the team that lost to lowly Tennessee Tech.

All this in first-year coach Mary Taylor Cowles’ first season, too.

Wow.

She got Western women’s basketball back on track in a big way.

Win or lose Tuesday, I would have stood up and cheered.

And the men?

Savor this win, guys. Not only because it gives you a third straight trip to the tournament, but also because it was your coach’s 100th career win at Western.

Enjoy it, because, if nobody else does, I remember your struggle. I remember how you lost Todor Pandov just hours into your season at Arizona and how you finally eluded the shadow of Chris Marcus when he walked away from the Hill after struggling to come back.

Remember it, too, for how you made a believer out of all those who doubted your coach when he dodged Marcus questions like a flyweight dodging jabs from Lennox Lewis for half the season.

Remember then how he made you believe in your own talents and ability and proved to you and everyone else how the big man hasn’t been what this team was about in almost two years.

There is a slogan that people love to use around March Madness time — survive and advance.

I think respond and advance is best reserved for the teams on the Hill.

For what you overcame to reserve your spots in the Big Dance may be up there with the best responses any Western basketball teams have made in recent memory.

It may not have been picturesque, pretty or easy, but the end result made up for it.

Kyle Hightower is a sports columnist and sports editor for the Herald. He can be reached at 745-6291 or by e-mail at [email protected]