"We can't really worry about last year, because it's a new year. We just have to go and take it." -WKU senior guard Jamal Crook
Hot Springs, Ar. -- Friday marks two teams in two very different places. The Hilltopper Men's Basketball team is fighting for their life as they face University of Louisiana - Monroe at 6 p.m. in the first round of the Sun Belt Conference Tournament. Meanwhile, the the Lady Toppers can relax a bit while they watch their potential opponents battle it out. It's a fitting way to start tournament play for two teams who have have had two very different seasons.
The Hilltoppers (16-15, 10-10) got off to a hot start in non-conference play but ran into arguably the toughest part of their season schedule in mid-December. That road stretch resulted in a loss to in-state rival Murray State, and two blowout losses to VCU and Louisville. Shortly after that three game stretch, WKU began conference play where they had streaks of good and bad play. There was no shortage of injuries this season for the men as guards Jamal Crook, T.J. Price, and Kevin Kaspar all missed time; not to mention the loss of Nigel Snipes to an ACL tear before the season even began. Despite a few tough spells in their schedule, and a few critical injuries, the Hilltoppers still find themselves in a pretty good place in Hot Springs. Their 6 p.m. game against the Warhawks has them up against the last seed in the tournament and a team that has only won four games all year. If they win their first round match-up, they'll face a South Alabama team they defeated less than two weeks ago in Diddle Arena. Another minor detail regarding the Hilltoppers in Hot Springs, they won the whole thing last year. Many players on the 2013 team, we're a part of that 2012 team that ran the table, but senior guard Jamal Crook isn't leaning too much on that experience.
"We can't really worry about last year, because it's a new year. We just have to go and take it."
If the Hilltoppers are able to take it, it'll be the first time a team has won back to back tournaments since WKU did it in 2008 and 2009.
On the women's side of things the Lady Toppers are sitting pretty as things kick off in Hot Springs. Many would argue that the team has snuck up on the Sun Belt, grabbing the three seed in the tournament. After a dismal 9-21 season last year, the team brought in many new faces including a new head coach. Michelle Clark-Heard has not disappointed, leading the team to a complete turnaround and a 20-9 record overall and a 13-7 conference record. Clark-Heard was recently honored as the Sun Belt's Coach of the Year, but two players brought here a year before Clark-Heard took over, are making all the difference. Sophomores Alexis Govan and Chastity Gooch were each recently named First-Team All Conference. Govan has brought intensity and a polished offensive game to the Lady Toppers, averaging 20 points per game, which has her in the top 20 in the nation. Gooch has played great defensively all season and was recently named Defensive Player of the Year in the Sun Belt. Yet, her offensive game isn't lacking. Gooch averages 16 points per game as well as more than 11 rebounds per game. Though Govan and Gooch have received a lot of the praise this season, the entire team has played well together, scoring more than 68 points per game. All of these factors are reasons why the women can rest easy on Friday and watch as two teams battle it out to face them Saturday. North Texas and Louisiana- Lafayette will square off at 2:30 p.m. in the first round of the tournament. Though Friday marks a day off for the Lady Toppers, they know their rest will be short-lived. If they hope to capture a conference title they'll still have to win three games in three days.
Both teams may face a tough task in their respective tournaments, but that's what March is all about.
For a link to both tournament brackets click on the link below.