WOMEN’S BASKETBALL: Lady Tops seek more respect

J. Michael Moore

A small group of Lady Toppers gathered in a semi-circle after Wednesday afternoon’s practice.

But they weren’t talking about Saturday’s afternoon game with Middle Tennessee.

Coach Mary Taylor Cowles wasn’t in sight.

Basketball time was over.

No, the object of their attention was a man in suit and tie — a sports anchor for local television station WBKO.

He came for an interview, but found himself in the midst of something bigger.

It was mostly laughter, but a serious argument found its way out of the mess.

The Lady Toppers were asking him why they weren’t getting as much air time as the men’s basketball team, despite having clinched their first regular-season Sun Belt Conference championship in six years against Florida International last Thursday.

Western is also riding a 10-game winning streak.

And some players think their 10-game success is worth a little more than 10 seconds of air time.

Seniors Kristina Covington, Shala Reese and Tiffiany Diggins were leading the playful charge, making a final effort before their final regular-season game in Diddle Arena on Saturday.

They hope to grab their team a little more spotlight before they go.

Saturday will be bittersweet.

“I never thought this day would come,” Covington said. “I’m starting to get a little senioritis.”

Diggins and Reese, both junior college transfers, find the day arriving quicker than Covington and fellow senior Jennifer Slaughter, who have each spent four years as a Lady Topper.

“I’ve thought about it, I’ve dreamed about it, now I’m planning on living it,” Diggins said, smiling.

Saturday will be the first time Reese’s parents have watched her play in Diddle Arena.

“Mama’s coming,” Reese exclaimed when asked what she’s the most excited about. “The closer it gets the more you look forward to it.”

Joking aside, the Lady Toppers still have plenty to play for and more respect to be earned from across the country.

Western (18-8, 11-2) has clinched the No. 1 seed for the conference tournament.

Middle Tennessee (16-10, 9-4) has also wrapped up their fight for the post-season, securing the No. 2 seed in the East Division after beating Florida International last Friday.

Saturday’s game with the Lady Raiders will be about keeping momentum.

A victory and the Lady Toppers could also strike some revenge. Middle Tennessee won the team’s first match-up, 74-62.

Cowles has shown the film of the game to her team, and knows vast changes have taken hold since the beginning of Jan 4.

“We’re not the same basketball team that we were the last time we played them,” Cowles said.

Middle Tennessee will bring an athletic crew to Bowling Green, including sophomore guard Patrice Holmes and freshman forward Tia Stovall.

Holmes is a conference player of the week winner, averaging 16 points and seven rebounds per game.

Stovall, who averages 11 points per game, did not play in the first match up.

Cowles said one-on-one defense will be a key.

She also said both teams have an easier go in preparing for Saturday’s game.

“I think we’re familiar with them,” Cowles said. “It maybe allows for us to prepare for them in an easier fashion.

“(The girls) feel like MTSU got in our way on Jan. 4. They have some bad memories of that game in Murfreesboro (Tenn.)”

Players agree a different Western team was on the floor when they played MTSU to open the conference season.

The Lady Toppers shot better than the Lady Raiders, but surrendered the game with 29 turnovers.

Ten wins and a championship tag later, Western is ready for a rematch.

“MTSU beat us in their place to open up the conference,” Covington said. “We’re not going to let them come in here and take our senior night away.”

Reach J. Michael Moore at [email protected]