Lady Tops to face 3 SEC opponents, La. Tech

J. Michael Moore

There’s no place like home for the Lady Toppers.

With 14 home games on the 2002-2003 schedule, Western’s women’s basketball team may need the home-court advantage when a string of tough opponents visit a renovated Diddle Arena.

The schedule, released yesterday, includes three opponents from the Southeastern Conference (Kentucky, Ole Miss and Arkansas) and a season-opening visit from perennial powerhouse Louisiana Tech on Nov. 23.

Clemson and Louisville will also visit Diddle Arena in the first four games of the season. The Lady Toppers will not leave Bowling Green until Dec. 7 when they start a four-game road trip in Lexington to face the Lady Wildcats. It will be the longest road trip of the season.

Western won’t play more than two road games in a row away after that point. They’ll play host to the Sun Belt Conference Tournament in March.

“That’s just the icing on the cake,” first-year head coach Mary Taylor Cowles said. “We wanted to utilize our ability to play at home in front of our home fans.”

The conference opener is set for Jan. 4 at Middle Tennessee, with a trip to defending conference champion Florida International set for Jan. 30.

The Lady Toppers will face all three of their SEC opponents on the road, but Cowles has little concern. It’s just three chances for an upset.

She also points out all three SEC foes will travel to Diddle Arena next season.

“If we want to be playing in postseason play, we have to prepare by playing against some of the best types of competition,” Cowles said.

And the Lady Toppers should see some of that competition from Day One, when the Lady Techsters invade Diddle for the first time since leaving the Sun Belt in 2001.

But Tech will play without Leon Barmore, its head coach of 20 years, who retired last month. Barmore led the Lady Techsters to nine final fours, five NCAA title games and the 1988 national championship.

Cowles said it would have been nice to shake Barmore’s hand at mid-court, but said she prefers to focus on the work her team has to do to get ready.

Reach J. Michael Moore at [email protected]