News Articles from Bowling Green
News Articles from Bowling Green
Defense is the key for WKU
By ROB HERBST, The Daily News, [email protected]
Sunday, March 4, 2007 12:22 AM CST
LAFAYETTE, La. - Western Kentucky saw Florida Atlantic's guards blow by defenders.
Western saw FAU forward Carlos Monroe put up eye-popping statistics against the Hilltoppers.
And Western also saw what happens when it doesn't play defense - it's likely to lose.
The Hilltoppers hit maybe their lowest point of the year in mid-February when Sun Belt Conference newcomer Florida Atlantic came into E.A. Diddle Arena and dissected the WKU ?D? for a 78-73 defeat. Tonight, the No. 3 seeded Hilltoppers get another chance to stop sixth-seeded Florida Atlantic in the quarterfinals of the Sun Belt Conference Tournament at the Cajundome.
For Western (21-10, 12-6 SBC East regular season), the key to beating FAU (16-14, 10-8) is simple: Find a way to stop them.
?We were awful guarding the dribble in that game and that led to easy baskets,? Western coach Darrin Horn said. ?That was the key to the game. We let them get going, and offensively they are a very explosive team. They'll find a way to put up almost 80 points every single game, but we contributed to that early on and I think it gave them a lot of confidence.?
Western saw the Owls shoot 60 percent from the field thanks to relatively easy looks at the basket. Monroe, a 6-foot-8, 245-pound second-team All-Sun Belt selection was 10-of-12 from the field for 26 points.
Monroe is averaging just over 18 points a night, while guard DeAndre Rice, who had 13 against the Hilltoppers in February, is averaging 20.
?They're a tough matchup because they're very good off the dribble and have a legitimate inside post presence,? Horn said. ?But we didn't feel like we played very well at all and that led to them playing well to some degree. We go back and look at the film and feel like there's a lot of things we can correct. And if we do that, it gives us a better chance - not a guarantee - but a better chance to win.?
Not only do the Hilltoppers think defense will be the deciding factor tonight, but it will determine whether Western wins this week's Sun Belt Conference Tournament.
Western is a perfect 18-0 when it shoots a higher percentage from the field than its opponent this year, and is 8-0 when holding a team to under 70 points. But when WKU gives up at least 70 points, the Hilltoppers are a pedestrian 6-6.
?We know we can play defense real well,? Western guard/forward Butch Jointer said. ?Our offense will come one way or another. But it's the defense that will win the championship.?
The same can be said for Florida Atlantic. Western got a 93-83 win at FAU on Dec. 30 because it hit 11-of-23 3-pointers.
?It's not going to be about scoring,? FAU coach Rex Walters said. ?It's going to be about defending, boxing out and limiting your opponent to one shot. That's how it's going to be the rest of the way. You can do all these tricky plays, but it comes down to basics. It's not rocket science.?
Little can be made of Western's victory at FAU. Both teams played shorthanded - Western was without guard Courtney Lee, who played only six minutes because of an ankle injury, and Monroe missed the contest for FAU.
Monroe is the Owls' biggest advantage against the Hilltoppers, who have been susceptible against some quality big men.
?We felt we had an inside advantage (at Western), but I'm sure Darrin has cooked up a few things to stop our inside attack and we're going to have to play at a very high level to come away with a W.?
Although the Owls have defeated Western this year, they squeaked into tonight's quarterfinals. FAU rallied to beat 11th-seed Florida International 91-88 in overtime in Wednesday's opening round in Boca Raton, Fla.
But because the Owls defeated the Hilltoppers in February, they now have Western's attention.
?I think to some degree (getting redemption) is a part of it, but at the same time if that's the only thing that's driving you this time of year, that's really not enough,? Horn said. ?We need to play well and we need to play the way we're capable of playing.
?Will our guys feel like they have a chance to play better against a team that beat 'em on our home court? No question. Is that going to be the deciding motivating factor? I don't think so.?
News Articles from Bowling Green
Title would solve Western?s puzzling season
This is the formula to build a wonderful college basketball season: You win six conference games by a combined margin of 14 points, three of them by one.
That is the season the Western Kentucky men's team delivered a year ago when the Hilltoppers finished the regular season 21-6. They lost in the finals of the Sun Belt Conference Tournament, and then, according to one report, coach Darrin Horn's team was the final at-large team excluded from the NCAA Tournament field.
This is the formula to build a puzzling college basketball season: You lose six conference games by a combined margin of 15 points, four by a basket or less.
That is the season the Western Kentucky men's team has delivered this year, finishing the regular season 21-10.
They begin play tonight in the Sun Belt Conference Tournament against Florida Atlantic University in Lafayette, La. This time the Hilltoppers don't have to fear the pain of being the last team off the board. It's strictly win-or-else.
They're facing a one-, two- or three-game season. In fact, odds are that beginning with FAU, Western will have to win three payback games to win the title.
This season Western was paid back for the close games it won last winter. This week Western could have a chance to pay back teams that beat them by five (FAU), by one (Arkansas State, a likely semifinal opponent), by one (North Texas, potentially in the finals) or by two (South Alabama, also in the finals).
"It's really pretty simple," Horn said. "What we have to do is go out and take it. That has to be our mindset this entire tournament.
"Last year we came into the tournament after winning those close games, and I'm not sure we totally understood the difference one or two plays make in every game.
"This year, because we've lost close games, we should have a better understanding. It's not just the last-second shot or free throw. It's the missed block-out 10 minutes into the game. It's the silly fouls 20 feet from the basket in the first five minutes that put a guy on the bench. It's unforced turnovers."
'Go out and take it'
This is Horn's fourth season in Bowling Green. It is also his third consecutive 20-victory season. This team won at Georgia, a place where Kentucky, Vanderbilt and four other Southeastern Conference teams failed to win.
Chew on this stat: The Hilltoppers' RPI rating outside the Sun Belt is better this season (44) than it was last season (47).
But the thought persists that last season was a joy and this season remains an unsatisfying puzzle. You can find frowns.
Why? There's actually no mystery. Western was picked to win the regular-season title. Then the Hilltoppers finished a game behind South Alabama in the Sun Belt East Division. They lost their first league game by a point to North Texas - and the trend lingered all season.
Western has a proud basketball tradition. It is not a place that wants to talk about winning most of the close games last season and then losing them this season.
Western is the kind of place that wants to know when it is returning to the NCAA Tournament - and winning a game there.
Horn understands that. He was a senior leader on the last WKU team to win an NCAA game when the Toppers defeated Michigan a dozen years ago. That was also the last Sun Belt team to win a game in the tournament that matters.
"I still like this team a lot," Horn said. "I feel good about this group. This year we just have to go out and take it."
Especially the close ones.
Reach Rick Bozich at (502) 582-4650 or [email protected] Comment on this column, and read his blog and previous columns, at
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