BOWLING GREEN, Ky. — Western Kentucky University (9-4, 3-0 SBC) used smothering defensive pressure to hold UALR (9-5, 2-1 SBC) scoreless through the opening 10:17 of the game en route to a decisive 79-47 victory on Saturday evening at Diddle Arena. In a battle of Sun Belt Conference division leaders, the Hilltoppers forced 13 Trojan turnovers before UALR could get on the board.
Improving to 3-0 in conference play for the first time since 2005-06, WKU is an impressive 57-5 against Sun Belt foes at Diddle Arena since 2000.
Freshman Dejan Crovo scored the game's first four points from the free throw line as WKU bolted to a 12-0 advantage on an Orlando Mendez-Valdez three-pointer just under six minutes in. Sergio Kerusch increased the spread to 14-0 before John Fowler converted the front end of two free throws to get UALR into the scoring column with 9:43 on the clock.
After a Matt Mouzy three drew the Trojans to 18-6, the Toppers countered with a 10-2 spurt to push in front 28-8 with 4:44 left on a Steffphon Pettigrew fastbreak dunk off a nice pass ahead from Anthony Sally. Pettigrew poured in 17 of his career-high 27 in the opening stanza, with 15 coming in the last eight minutes of the period.
WKU held the Trojans to 4-of-16 shooting in the first-half, forcing 16 turnovers, and leading 35-15 at the break. The 15 points was the fewest allowed in over eight years in the first-half by WKU.
The second-half held more of the same as the Hilltoppers scored nine of the first 11 points and used a 23-9 run to break the game open 58-24 with 11:55 to play on a Kerusch fastbreak lay-up. The Trojans countered with their only run of the contest, scoring seven-straight to make it 58-31 with 10:12 on the clock, but a Pettigrew jumper and two charity tosses by Mendez-Valdez shoved the bulge back over 30. The run marked the only time in the game in which UALR scored more than three consecutive points.
Pettigrew finished 12-of-16 from the field in addition to grabbing seven rebounds. AJ Slaughter added 15 points and two steals while Kerusch chipped in nine points and six boards. Sally had half of the team's dozen assists as WKU continued its hot shooting at Diddle Arena, canning 57.0 percent of their shots in the past two games.
Brandon Patterson led UALR with nine points and six rebounds.
WKU will now embark on a three-game, seven-day road swing which begins Monday night in Starkville, Miss. against Mississippi State at 7:00 PM. The Hilltoppers are 1-0 against the Southeastern Conference this year after knocking off Georgia 67-63 on December 2 at Diddle Arena.