WOMEN’S BASKETBALL: Rookie rocks, Lady Tops roll

J. Michael Moore

Tiffany Porter-Talbert was unusually quiet before the Lady Toppers’ exhibition game Saturday against the Houston Jaguars.

The normally upbeat freshman grew solemn before her first game in Diddle Arena. But teammates and Lady Topper fans found out quickly that nerves hadn’t gotten the best of her.

Porter-Talbert started her first game in uniform in the back court and emerged as a major scoring threat. The Manhattan Beach, Calif., native dropped 25 points on the Jaguars, leading the Lady Toppers to a 97-54 victory.

She also added nine rebounds, five assists and four steals to her totals.

“There’s something special in Tiffany Porter-Talbert,” Western head coach Mary Taylor Cowles said. “I’m not the least bit surprised. She is a phenomenal athlete. She has great knowledge of the game.”

Porter-Talbert sparked a Lady Topper offense that shot 49 percent from the floor and a transition defense that held the Jaguars to 35 percent shooting for the night.

The Jaguars are 0-8 on their college tour. Their 54 points Saturday night was their third lowest output. Louisiana Tech, Western’s opponent for its regular season home opener, defeated the Jaguars last week 94-52.

Western’s transition game brought an explosion of offensive production, a welcome surprise for a team that played only eight of nine players.

Cowles has stressed the transition game for the entire preseason, adding that her squad must limit quick baskets as well as second-chance buckets if they are to have a chance with some of the better teams on their schedule.

“We have to take away their offensive transition game,” Cowles said, referring to Louisiana Tech, which visits Diddle Arena Nov. 23. “If Louisiana Tech is the typical Louisiana Tech team, they are not great outside shooters. But they do crash the boards and get two, three or four opportunities.”

Saturday night, the small Lady Toppers out-rebounded Houston 52-34. Senior Shala Reese led the way with 17 rebounds – 10 off the offensive glass.

“It helps when you have a coach that played post in college,” said Reese, who was second in scoring with 17 points. “All she talks about is how we’re going to have a post game.”

The Lady Toppers jumped out to a 22-8 first-half lead against the Jaguars and never looked back. They connected on the majority of their free throws in the opening minutes and finished the game a solid 76 percent from the line.

“I told the girls that if we can hit 80 percent from the free throw line, we will put ourselves in a position to win games,” Cowles said. “Free throws are huge.”

They also help Western, and its shallow bench, conserve energy.

“We’ve got to hit free throws,” Reese said. “If we don’t hit, we’re running, and we definitely don’t want to run with just eight people.”

They also stayed out of foul trouble, giving the Jaguars only 13 attempts from the line all night.

The star of the game was Porter-Talbert, whose name was called over the PA system more than most expected. It could be a sign of good things to come for the Lady Toppers.

She left the game to a standing ovation with 1:10 remaining.

She hit from all areas of the floor, and at times, single handedly broke the press and led the transition offense. On more than one occasion she made defenders fall down, cutting hard to one side and breaking a fruitless double team.

“Of course you’re going to be nervous. That’s normal,” Porter-Talbert said. “But you just have to get out there and play . It was breathtaking. It’s good to have the fans, because that’s who you play for. They’re very supportive, and I like that kind of atmosphere.”

Reach J. Michael Moore at [email protected]