Hilltoppers prepare for C-USA Tournament, ‘You can’t be nervous, you have a championship to win’

Old Dominion’s Austin Trice (23) attempts to post up WKU Hilltoppers Charles Bassey (23) as WKU falls to Old Dominion on March 5, 2021.

Jake Moore

WKU Men’s Basketball head coach Rick Stansbury along with junior Charles Bassey and senior Taveion Hollingsworth spoke to the media about regular season performances, accolades, and tournament preparation on Tuesday ahead of the Air Force Reserve Conference USA Men’s Basketball Championship in Frisco, Texas. 

WKU will play its first game of the tournament against either Charlotte or UTSA depending on the winner of that matchup. WKU split its series against Charlotte during the regular season and did not play UTSA.

Stansbury explained that much of the pre-game preparation will focus on UTSA and that the team will be watching the game together Wednesday night. 

“If you have to anticipate who you’re going to play, it’s probably going to be San Antonio,” Stansbury said. “We’ve played [that] Charlotte team. San Antonio is a team that we haven’t played and haven’t done a scouting report on, so there will be much more focus and preparation put towards [UTSA] today and tomorrow.”

WKU will not be able to practice in Frisco before the first game due to the courts being in use, but the Hilltoppers opted to avoid seeking out another practice facility in order to not risk team members contracting COVID-19.

“The first time we get on the court will be game time,” Stansbury said. “But we decided [instead of] going down and going to an auxiliary gym somewhere we’re better off staying [in Bowling Green] in our little bubble as best as we can and to stay away from all of that stuff.”

Stansbury was proud of what his team had accomplished throughout the year, noting that the team has had to face difficulties it would not have normally dealt with in a pandemic-free season such as long gaps in the schedule and back-to-back series with opponents.

“When you win a championship at any level it’s very special,” Stansbury said. “There’s a lot of teams, a lot of players that never get the opportunity to experience what our guys just did, and they did it in a very difficult situation all year long. The month of February was a challenging month, we only played two games in 30 days.”

Stansbury said from a mentality standpoint this season has been one of the most difficult things his program has had to face. 

“Our guys deserve a lot of credit for fighting through all these different obstacles to put themselves in a position to [win a championship],” Stansbury said.

Stansbury also revealed that the team discovered Charles Bassey was fighting a bout of pneumonia during the second half of the Hilltoppers’ game against #7 Houston on Feb. 25 but noted that Bassey should be good to go for the tournament thanks to some much-needed rest. 

“We didn’t figure it out until the second half of that game,” Stansbury said. “He just couldn’t breathe. We come back and find out the next day he had pneumonia. I think he spent a day in the hospital getting IVs put in. I think this little rest will help him in this three-game stretch [in Frisco].”

Charles Bassey felt honored to be named both Conference USA Player of the Year and Conference USA Defensive Player of the Year, noting that he is now among elite company as only Charlotte’s Eddie Basden (2005), Marquette’s Dwyane Wade (2003), and Cincinnati’s Kenyon Martin (2000) have won both awards in the same season.

“It means a lot to just be among those names, Dwyane Wade and those guys, being among that list is amazing,” Bassey said. 

Bassey and teammate Taveion Hollingsworth, who was given Second Team All-Conference USA honors, made it clear that the team doesn’t feel nervous ahead of the conference tournament and that they just need to keep their heads down and do their jobs. 

“We want to focus on winning every game because it’s a dream come true to play in the NCAA tournament and that’s our goal,” Bassey said. “To be honest I don’t feel [many] nerves, I just go and play the best basketball [I can].”

“You can’t be [nervous], you have a championship to win. You aren’t going to win any games being nervous,” Hollingsworth said. 

The Hilltoppers will play the winner of the UTSA-Charlotte matchup Thursday, March 11 at 5:30 p.m. CT. 

Sports reporter Jake Moore can be reached at [email protected] Follow Jake on Twitter at @Charles_JMoore.