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Monday, February 27, 2012

Unlike WKU Mens' Basketball Team, All We Hear From The Athletic Director Ross Bjork When It Comes To The Womens' Team Is Blah, Blah, Blah!

Bjork speaks on state of the Lady Tops

For the first time this season, Western Kentucky athletic director Ross Bjork addressed the state of the Lady Topper basketball program Sunday after WKU’s 77-62 loss to Middle Tennessee.

Bjork stopped short of commenting on coach Mary Taylor Cowles’ job security, saying the program will be fully evaluated shortly after the season ends.

“We completely understand that the expectations of this program are to compete for and win championships,” Bjork said. “That’s what Diddle Arena stands for with all the banners, going to Final Fours. The expectations are very high. Anytime that you have a record like we have, people are asking questions about the program. Our job is to restore confidence back in the program, and we have to find a way to do that.”

The Lady Toppers have lost 20 games in a season for the first time in program history, and their 6-7 record at E.A. Diddle Arena is the first losing home record in 32 years.

WKU opens play Saturday in the Sun Belt Conference Tournament in Hot Springs, Ark.

“My hope is that we go into Hot Springs and we play with confidence, we play with inspiration,” Bjork said. “We have one choice, and that’s to win the tournament and advance. From there, we’ve got to have confidence back in the program. The parallels are very similar to the men, in terms of energy back in the program. We have to find a way to do that heading into the future.”

The plan was never to make a coaching change with the Lady Toppers during the season.

“You have a full body of work, and obviously we didn’t make a change on the women’s side,” he said. “That wasn’t the plan, nor did we need to. We needed to let the season play out, and we still have season left to play. The decision we made on the men’s side was very unusual, with the dynamics much different.”

WKU must return to the top of the Sun Belt to compete for championships, Bjork said, because the conference has proven that it can draw multiple NCAA tournament bids.

Attendance is also an issue. The Lady Toppers averaged 1,152 fans over 13 home games this season, representing a 42 percent decrease from 2008-09.

Sunday’s senior day against the Lady Raiders drew 1,234 fans, a large portion of them clad in MTSU blue.

“That is a concern, and again, that’s the confidence level back in the program,” Bjork said. “I think our fans love our young ladies. There’s always been a deep connection with our team beyond the games, where they get to know our players beyond the games.

“We’ve got to get back to fans coming out to support this team.”

Lady Tops draw Monroe in SBC tourney

WKU’s “third season” begins Saturday at the Sun Belt Tournament.

The Lady Toppers, the No. 5 seed from the East Division, will play Louisiana-Monroe, the West Division’s No. 4 seed, in the first round at 12:15 p.m. at Convention Center Court in Hot Springs.

“We’re not going to look back, I can promise you that,” Cowles said. “We’re looking forward, and we’re going to Hot Springs like everyone else for our third season with a 0-0 record. We know who we’re going to play in the first game, and that’s what we’ve got to concentrate on.”

WKU lost 53-49 at Louisiana-Monroe on Dec. 29 in the teams’ only meeting this season. If the Lady Toppers advance, they’ll meet top-seeded Middle Tennessee at noon Sunday in the quarterfinals.

MTSU coach Rick Insell believes nine of the conference’s 12 teams are capable of winning the tournament, he said after Sunday’s game.

WKU made an improbable run to last year’s championship game before falling to Arkansas-Little Rock.

“Nine of them, including Western Kentucky, have a legitimate chance to win the Sun Belt Conference Tournament,” Insell said. “Maybe a lot of you don’t believe that, but that’s what I’m preaching.”

Insell comes clean

Insell let reporters in on a secret Sunday – he actually does spend money in Bowling Green.

For years, the MTSU coach has told the story that he won’t allow the Lady Raiders to spend any money in Kentucky during trips to WKU.

He told reporters in Murfreesboro, Tenn., last week that the rule stemmed from a confrontation with Cowles years ago when MTSU hosted the Sun Belt Tournament. The Lady Toppers opted to stay in a Nashville hotel that year instead of in Murfreesboro, drawing Insell’s ire.

But the coach cleared the air Sunday after his team’s decisive win.

“The first thing that I want to get clear is that I don’t dislike Western Kentucky fans, and I don’t dislike Western Kentucky,” Insell said. “I just don’t like the color red. Write that down, because I do respect your fans because of the tradition here, and it’s a basketball school. I try to stir Western up a bit, but I enjoy playing here because they appreciate the game.

“And secretly, I will tell you this, I have spent money in Bowling Green. I’ve got a Corvette, and I go over to the museum a lot and buy things.”



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