NEWCOMERS: ‘Her vertical takes her a half-inch above the rim’

Jay Lively

A team short on numbers, the Lady Toppers welcome the addition of three newcomers who are all expected to compete for playing time.

High school standout Tiffany Porter-Talbert will see significant time at both guard positions and could even contribute down low as a freshman.

A proven scorer and rebounder in high school, the 5-foot-9 Porter-Talbert averaged 22 points and 11 rebounds her senior season at Mira Coast High School in Manhattan Beach, Calif., and earned Most Outstanding Player honors.

“Her first step is oh-so lightning quick,” Cowles said. “Her ability to get to the basket from the perimeter is unbelievable.”

Porter-Talbert’s athleticism will complement the team’s quick style of play and, although a guard, she will be expected to help carry the rebounding load.

“Her vertical takes her a half-inch above the rim,” Cowles said. “If Tiffany Porter is running the point for us and the ball is shot, (she) is not getting back on defense, (she) is crashing the boards, offensively.”

Porter-Talbert, who is known for clowning around off the court, has impressed her teammates on the court after the first few weeks of practice.

“She can jump out of the gym,” transfer forward Alisha Hunter said. “Her natural talent is going to take her far. It’s going to be a learning experience for her, but she’s going to make an immediate impact. When she reaches her full potential she’s (WNBA) bound.”

Senior Shala Reese, last year’s Sun Belt Conference Newcomer of the Year, said although Porter has a lot to learn, she has the right attitude to succeed.

“Nobody’s going to outwork her,” Reese said. “She has the mentality that she’s going to be a starter and nobody’s going to take her spot.”

Bringing depth to the post, Hunter expects to make an impact as a role player right away. A 6-foot-1 forward from Arcata, Calif., Hunter averaged 13 points, seven rebounds and two steals a game last season for Labette Community College in Kansas.

A two-sport athlete, she earned all-conference honors both seasons at Labette, while leading the team with a .923 free-throw percentage.

Hunter said she sees herself as a versatile player who will bring experience and leadership to the team.

“We have so few numbers this year that to exceed the expectations placed upon us, we have to come together as a team,” she said. “I’m going to have to come in and step it up. I’ll fill in wherever they need me.”

And with Western’s front line a point of concern, freshman walk-on Krystal Gardner, of Munfordville, has been a pleasant surprise for the coaching staff.

“Krystal Gardner brings a nice little extra bit of depth in the post that I did not know we were going to get,” Cowles said. “She’s done a great job. Sometimes we have to remind her to shoot. She’s a great shooter (with) great touch on the ball.”

In her senior season at Hart County High School, Gardner averaged 15 points and 7 rebounds, earning all-state honorable mention. She helped lead Hart County to three consecutive Sweet 16 appearances.

“My role is to work as hard as I can every day at practice,” Gardner said. “I’m going to do the things my coaches ask me to do and just improve. Hopefully I can come in and prove to my coaches that I can play the post and contribute.”

With only 11 players on the roster, Western will need all three of the fresh faces to contribute.