WKU clinches C-USA Championship berth: ‘Now we’re down to one game’

Head coach Rick Stansbury in the huddle with the Hilltoppers in the midst of a timeout. WKU played UAB in the C-USA Semifinal winning 64-60 to advance to the Championship game. 

Kaden Gaylord

WKU (20-6) played the Alabama-Birmingham Blazers (22-7) in the C-USA Championship Semifinal on Friday afternoon and won 64-60 in dramatic fashion. 

“Now we’re down to one game,” head coach Rick Stansbury said. “Now we get some rest. We get a chance to recover a little bit. Now it’s an eight o’clock game Saturday night so our guys will have a chance to rest a little bit and recover.”

This is the Hilltoppers 47th time to have a 20 win season in program history. 

“I’m going to come in there with everything I have ready to play, injury or no injury,” junior Charles Bassey said. “When I got going I was good.” 

Big man Bassey had 22 points on 9-of-12 shooting, seven rebounds, and four blocks. Freshman Dayvion Mcknight had 13 points, nine assists and three steals. 

“Charles was a beast, “ Stansbury said. “Anytime you play against zones, somewhere along the way you have to make some shots. We had [Jordan] Rawls and [Luke] Frampton come off that bench and hit five threes between them. As a team we shot 10 for 20.” 

Both teams were off to a rugged start in the semifinal, combining for four points in the first four minutes of play and a combined shooting of 1-of-9 with four turnovers. 

Within the first five minutes of the contest UAB held the Hilltoppers scoreless in the paint whereas UAB had 10.

The Blazers held WKU in check while Bassey and Hollingsworth weren’t in the game, forcing seven turnovers and holding the Hilltoppers to shooting 3-of-11 total shots halfway through the opening half. 

Prior to half time the Blazers went on a 6-0 run to pull away from the Hilltoppers. Sophomore Jordan Rawls gave WKU some life late in the first half with his second triple of the game. Then Bassey answered with a dagger from deep of his own to knot the contest up at 31. 

{{tncms-inline account=”Conference USA” html=”<blockquote class="twitter-tweet"><p lang="en" dir="ltr">The Bassey shrug 🤷‍♂️<a href="https://twitter.com/WKUBasketball?ref_src=twsrc%5Etfw">@WKUBasketball</a> <a href="https://t.co/3bhzXwncCz">pic.twitter.com/3bhzXwncCz</a></p>— Conference USA (@ConferenceUSA) <a href="https://twitter.com/ConferenceUSA/status/1370442620921597957?ref_src=twsrc%5Etfw">March 12, 2021</a></blockquote>” id=”https://twitter.com/ConferenceUSA/status/1370442620921597957″ type=”twitter”}}

Graduate Michael Ertel hit his third triple of the day to wrap up the first half scoring for UAB. Ertel shot 3-for-4 atop the arc leading his team to a 34-31 lead over the Hilltoppers at halftime. 

WKU mustered a comeback in the final 3:25 of the first half outscoring the Blazers 10-5. 

The respective programs traded hard fought possessions, but shots weren’t falling by the first media timeout of the second half. Hollingsworth hit a triple to knot the game back up at 36 apiece roughly five minutes into the second frame. 

The Hilltoppers took charge attacking the basket going on a 6-2 run over the Blazers for 2:43 before the halfway point of the second frame making it 47-40 WKU. 

Bassey, the C-USA Player and Defensive player of year, continued to perform as he was 2-for-4 from deep and 9-for-12 from the field with five minutes remaining in the semifinal. 

WKU had back-to-back possessions that ended in a three point make that helped put them up by seven with under four minutes to play. UAB brought the deficit down to two  with under 1:30 to play. 

WKU proceeded to turn it over, UAB’s leading scorer Michael Ertel had a good look from behind the arc to take the lead but missed the three. UAB proceeded to foul McKnight and sent him to the free throw line. He hit both to take a four point lead. 

The Blazers had two chances to put the ball in the hoop but missed both, giving WKU the 64-60 win to clinch a berth to the C-USA Championship game. 

McKnight said coming out with energy will be a big thing for the Hilltoppers tomorrow in the Championship game. 

Up next the Hilltoppers have the C-USA Championship game. WKU will either play LA Tech or North Texas Saturday night at 8 p.m. on the CBS Sports Network. 

“Coming into tomorrow we’ll be ready,” Bassey said. “We wanna play in March Madness. It’s going to be a dogfight, so we’re going to come in tomorrow ready and go get the win.” 

Men’s basketball beat reporter Kaden Gaylord can be reached at [email protected] Follow Kaden on Twitter at @_KLG3