MinerRush: So I was super excited to have WKU in C-USA, and now the excitement has turned into anxiety, what has been the straw to stir the winning streak cocktail over the past month or so?
Wave The Red Towel: It all started with the nine point loss to Louisville. The Tops didn't get the win, but they did play step for step with the Cardinals and got the confidence they needed after an up-and-down non-conference schedule. Since, they got a couple of blowout victories against two NAIA schools, and the confidence from that continued into a throttling of Marshall and is still continuing. WKU is off to their best conference start in 22 years, and it's really thanks to an avalanche of confidence that builds and builds after each win.
In terms of specifics on the floor, T.J. Price and George Fant are playing some of their most consistent basketball of their career. Fant comes into the matchup against the Miners with six consecutive double-doubles, and was the spark that lead WKU over Old Dominion when they were ranked 25th. As for T.J., he's the guy. He runs point when he's on the floor and if the game is close in the final moments, you want T.J. to have the ball in his hands. The pair have had standout games here and there throughout their career (both are seniors this year), but never have they both been playing at this level night in and night out. Its fun to watch.
MR: You're women's team is pretty damn good too, what's your take on the ladies side?
WTRT: Ha, they sure are! I'm not going to lie - I knew they'd be good. With Michelle Clark-Heard, the Lady Tops have had back-to-back 20-win seasons and look very well on their way to a third. She has completely retooled the culture to what it was back in her playing days. WKU has a great basketball tradition in both men's and women's, but if I had to say, I'd say the women's is better known, and with the way they're playing right now, they'll be national title contenders in a few years.
Not only are they talented, but they're deep, too. Chastity Gooch and Alexis Govan are a lock for 15 points a game and Kendall Noble does just about everything. Senior Ileana Johnson has actually played herself into the starting lineup as of late, and the Tops have the reigning Miss Kentucky Basketball on their roster. I feel bad for the rest of the conference, because the Lady Tops are going to be very good for a very long time.
MR: Fant, and Price are studs and All C-USA candidates IMO, but who else has to have a big game against the Miners?
WTRT: Literally anyone else ha. Over the past few games, the Tops have had one guy lead the pack in the first half, and then the rest of the guys follow suit in the second half. One of our staff writers wrote earlier this week about how the big-men, aside from Fant, need to step up, because outside of him, all of the production and good play is coming form the guards. Chris Harrison-Docks can shoot the living daylights out of the basketball, and other guard Trency Jackson can do anything you need on the offensive side - he can score from the outside, inside, throw down a one-handed tomahawk - whatever is needed of him.
MR: What style of team or play has gave WKU trouble or exposed their weaknesses?
WTRT: Really, in conference play, it hasn't been the opponents stopping the Tops, its been themselves. With the exception of the FAU game, in which the Owls shot lights-out from beyond the arc, the Tops find themselves in close games because they aren't getting enough production from across the board. Fant or Price can lead WKU with 10-15 points in a half, but it isn't until late in the second half when the help comes. If UTEP can take advantage of a lack-of-production early on, they'll find themselves in a good position
MR: Back to the ladies side, what does UTEP have to do to pull the upset?
WTRT: Hope the bus breaks down between the hotel and the arena. UTEP can try to stop Chastity Gooch, but Alexis Govan will just up her output. If Gooch isn't on the floor and the attention shifts to Govan, Kendall Noble or even Micah Jones will have her back. Like I said above, the Lady Toppers are just so deep, and they play very solid fundamental ball. Unless the Lady Miners slash the tires of the Tops' bus, I honestly don't see UTEP having any chance.
MR: (MBB) How do you expect WKU to attack UTEP defensively?
WTRT: If the Miners keep the ball at the top of the key or beyond the perimeter, they'll use their guards - Trency Jackson and Chris Harrison-Docks - to try and poke the ball away for the turnover. They wont rely on the fast break, necessarily, but they will try to create as many offensive opportunities as they can.
However, the Tops would love to force the Miners to go inside and challenge Fant down low. He can force silly mistakes by opposing offenses and grab any rebounds that come his way.
MR: So it is a Topper sweep of the Miners on Thursday?
WTRT: I believe so. I definitely see the Lady Tops running away with a victory, and I think the Tops will take the mens game too, but I'm expecting a good game. WKU is retiring (now Memphis Grizzly) Courtney Lee's uniform beforehand, and students are starting to return from winter break, so not only a lot of emotions of the uniform retiring, but hopefully the students who have been away will come back with full force. I'm awful at predicting scores, but I see an 87-59 Lady Tops win and a 65-58 Fella Tops win.
Huge thanks to Fletcher for the Q&A session, check out the Q&A Alex did with them, and check out all the WKU blog info you need with the good guys at Wave The Red Towel.