WKU looks to get back on track with back-to-back games in Florida

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Alexandra Hendricks

WKU center Jamarion Sharp (33) dunks to give WKU a point during the WKU v University of Louisville basketball game at Diddle Arena on Dec. 18, 2021.

Kaden Gaylord-Day, Men's Basketball Reporter

WKU Basketball head coach Rick Stansbury met with the media Wednesday afternoon ahead of WKU’s matchups against Florida Atlantic (9-8, 2-2 C-USA) and Florida International (10-7, 0-4 C-USA) Thursday and Saturday.

“It’s going to be two challenging games,” Stansbury said. “Any time you can go on the road and win in any division, it’s a challenge.”

It’s been over a year since the Hilltoppers and Owls have met on the court. Last year, the two matchups had to be postponed due to COVID-19 protocols within the Owls’ program. 

The last time these two teams met was in Boca Raton on Jan. 30, 2020, where FAU came back and won 69-65 after being down at halftime. 

In that game, the Owls hit 10 three pointers and scored 17 second-chance points, including the last two that put the nails in the coffin for the Hilltoppers. Only two players from that ‘20 FAU team are on the ‘22 team. 

The Owls are led by junior guard Michael Forrest and freshman guard Alijah Martin who average 14.2 and 13.7 points, respectively. They are the only two players that average double digits for FAU. 

An area FAU excels in is shooting from behind the arc. The Owls are third in Conference USA in three-point shooting at a clip of 36% per game. That’s part of the game where WKU is known to be vulnerable. 

On the other side, FAU is also vulnerable on the defensive end, posting up the worst three-point defense in C-USA, which should allow the Hilltoppers’ offense to bounce back after a rough game from behind the arc against North Texas. 

“When you get into league play, it becomes a little more difficult [playing zone] because there are more shooters on that floor so we have to adjust,” Stansbury said. “I think with our abilities in some of those perimeter spots, I think we’re okay. I don’t think we’re great, but I think we’re okay.”

One of the weaknesses of the FAU attack is its inability to hit shots at the free throw line. The Owls are 12th in the league in free throw shooting at 69% while WKU is historically known to get to the line and make a lot more free throws than its opponent. 

WKU leads the all-time series 16-6 and have won six of the last seven against FAU. 

After a night in Boca Raton, the Hilltoppers will travel to Miami to face the Florida International Panthers for the second time this season. 

In their earlier matchup, WKU won 84-71. In that game, five players hit double digits with senior Josh Anderson leading the way with 16 points. WKU went 14-of-19 from the free throw line while holding FIU to just 4-of-7. WKU won the turnover battle 14-10 and outscored FIU 24-7 in points off turnovers. 

Despite not winning a game in the conference yet, the Panthers have one of the best defenses in C-USA, second in opponents field goal percentage at 40% and third in opponents three-point percentage at 30%. 

“Naturally it’s something everybody wants to do, take away that three-point shot, everybody wants to do it,” Stansbury said. “But again, we’re not an easy team to defend when we spread that court with Jamarion and Dayvion in the middle of that lane.”

FIU held WKU to 4-of-14 from three-point land in the first half, but the Hilltoppers got hot in the second going 6-of-9. 

WKU will take on Florida Atlantic in Boca Raton Thursday at 6 p.m. CT. The game will be broadcast on the CBS Sports Network. Following that game, the Hilltoppers will travel to Miami to take on Florida International Saturday at 6 p.m. That game will be broadcast on ESPN+. 

Men’s Basketball Reporter Kaden Gaylord-Day can be reached at [email protected] Follow him on Twitter @_KLG3.