“They practiced hard”: Sanderford reflects on the 1991-92 National Runner-Up Lady Toppers

Published: Jun. 30, 2022 at 11:15 PM CDT
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BOWLING GREEN, Ky. (WBKO) - A season of dreams.

30 years after their historic season, the 1991-92 WKU Lady Toppers’ national runner-up finish remains the best finish ever in program history. They reached the national title game, falling short to Tara VanDerveer’s Stanford Cardinal squad, 78-62.

WKU finished the season at a modest 20-7 entering the Sun Belt Tournament. But entering the tournament, which was hosted at E.A. Diddle Arena, the Lady Tops got hot, rolling their way to a conference title, landing them a four-seed in the NCAA Tournament.

“We got hot at the right time,” Sanderford said in a sit-down with WBKO. “We played our best basketball at tournament time, the Sun Belt tournament and the NCAA Tournament. It seemed like we played better and better and better as we went through that.”

The Lady Tops opened the NCAA Tournament with an emphatic win over Alabama in Bowling Green. They’d travel to Purdue - also referred to by fans as “E.A. Diddle East” - where they upset Pat Summitt’s then-top ranked Tennessee Lady Vols. WKU punched its ticket to its third-ever Final Four with a win in the Regional Final or Maryland.

“It was an amazing run all the way through the tournament. And then we get to Los Angeles and we play at the old Coliseum, which was kind of a historic venue. Anyway, at that time, the Clippers played there,” Sanderford said.

In a sea of hoopla and excitement, the Lady Tops got over the hump and rolled past Southwestern Missouri State to advance to their first-ever national championship game.

The only problem? Their turnaround time was less than 18 hours, something Sanderford says played a role in his team’s loss.

“I admit that we got tired. You know, that’s not an excuse. Stanford had to play a game too. But they got an extra four hours in there. And, you know, we made a tremendous run. And we squeezed every bit of talent that we had out of that group and we were so close to winning it all,” Sanderford said.

Things have been nowhere near the same for WKU. They’d reach two Sweet Sixteens in the next three seasons. However, the team hasn’t reached the NCAA Tournament since 2018 and hasn’t won a Tournament game since 2000.

But three decades later, he still has a big grin on his face when talking about that Lady Toppers team. A team, that he says, reflects his core principle as a head coach.

“You’ve got to believe in yourself and your ability, and you’ve got to believe in the system if you want to be successful and, you know, they were they practice hard every day. And you know, it was just a mindset.”

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