HOUSTON – Western Kentucky is 1-0 so far on its Texas road swing. But guard Josh Anderson said he won’t be happy unless the Hilltoppers return home Sunday with two victories.
“We know we’ve got to get two of them,” the sophomore told the Daily News on Thursday after a 92-85 double-overtime win at Rice.
WKU (14-10 overall, 7-4 Conference USA) gets its chance to fulfill that goal Saturday. The Toppers will head into The Super Pit for a showdown with North Texas (20-4, 8-3), one of the few teams ahead of WKU in the C-USA standings.
Coach Rick Stansbury’s Hilltoppers sit alone in fourth place, while coach Grant McCasland’s Mean Green is tied with Texas-San Antonio (14-10, 8-3) for second. Old Dominion (19-6, 9-3) has a narrow lead on those two squads.
Three games remain for WKU before the league is separated into three tiers for four bonus-play games that’ll end the regular season.
WKU has won six of seven, putting itself into good position for a spot in the top five-team tier. Qualifying for that group would also assure the Tops a top-five seed for next month’s Conference USA Tournament.
With the extra stakes in mind, guard Lamonte Bearden said a win Saturday at North Texas would be “real valuable.”
“It would be a real good win for us,” the redshirt senior Bearden said. “… I’m sure we’ll be ready.”
WKU enters Saturday with questions as to who’ll lead the team from the sidelines.
Pain from a lingering back injury forced Stansbury to stay behind in the team hotel for Thursday’s contest at Rice. Assistant Marc Hsu moved over to the head seat and guided the Hilltoppers to their seven-point win.
Stansbury’s status for Saturday’s game has yet to be determined, team spokesman Zach Greenwell said Friday night. If Stansbury is unable to coach against North Texas, Hsu will again fill that role.
“We just focused on what (Hsu) was saying, and we came out and executed,” Anderson said of Thursday’s win.
WKU used a set of impressive individual outings to rally back from a 13-point hole and beat the Owls.
Anderson scored 24 points, set a new career-high in made field goals (10), tied his career-best nine rebounds and grabbed four steals.
Bearden mounted 16 points, a career-high 11 assists and zero turnovers in a career-long 43 minutes.
Guard/forward Jared Savage tied his season-high with five made 3-pointers and scored 21 points, his most in any Conference USA game.
And center Charles Bassey overcame a slow start to post his 12th double-double. The freshman mounted 10 points and 14 rebounds and matched a career-high with five blocks.
WKU started 1-3 in the league. It’s now amassed a pair of three-game winning streaks sandwiched around a Jan. 26 loss at Louisiana Tech.
A win Saturday at UNT would give the Toppers their first four-game winning streak of the season.
“We’re kind of finding a rhythm with how we’re going to play,” said Talvis Franklin, WKU’s director of basketball operations. “It’s good going down the stretch.”
Bassey named 1 of 10 candidates for Kareem Abdul-Jabbar Award
Bassey was named Friday as one of 10 candidates for the 2019 Kareem Abdul-Jabbar Center of the Year Award, as announced by the Naismith Memorial Basketball Hall of Fame.
The annual honor in its fifth year recognizes the top centers in men’s college basketball. A national committee determined the watch list of 21 candidates in October, which has now been narrowed to 10.
Bassey – a 6-foot-11, 245-pound native of Lagos, Nigeria – is averaging 14.5 points, 10.3 rebounds and 2.3 blocks this season while shooting 63.1 percent from the field.
The freshman leads Conference USA in both rebounding and double-doubles. The big man is one of two freshmen in the country averaging a double-double.
Bassey ranks in the top 40 in the country in double-doubles, field-goal percentage, blocks per game, total blocks, rebounds per game, offensive rebounds per game, defensive rebounds per game and total rebounds.
In March, five finalists will be presented to Abdul-Jabbar and the Hall of Fame’s selection committee. The winner of the 2019 Kareem Abdul-Jabbar Award will be presented at The College Basketball Awards in Los Angeles on April 12.
2019 Kareem Abdul-Jabbar Center of the Year Award candidates
Daniel Gafford, Arkansas
Nick Perkins, Buffalo
Nico Carvacho, Colorado St.
Jessie Govan, Georgetown
Bruno Fernando, Maryland
Nick Ward, Michigan St.
Moses Brown, UCLA
Charles Bassey, WKU
Nathan Knight, William & Mary
Ethan Happ, Wisconsin
WKU has made at least one 3-pointer in 1,000 straight games dating back to March 15, 1987. The Hilltoppers on Thursday became just the fifth Division I program to stretch such a streak into quadruple digits. … WKU ranks ninth in the country in total blocks (122), 18th in blocked shots per game (5.1) and 21st in percentage of opponents’ shots blocked (14), per Ken Pomeroy data. … Since putting on a protective mask for a broken nose suffered Jan. 24, Anderson has averaged 20.3 points per game the last three outings. … In the last three games, Bearden has 25 combined assists against just three turnovers. He leads Conference USA with a 3.6-to-1 assist-to-turnover ratio. … Bassey ranks seventh on the Toppers’ freshman scoring list with 349 points. He already owns program freshman records for blocked shots (54) and rebounds (247).
Western Kentucky (14-10, 7-4) at North Texas (20-4, 8-3)
5 p.m. Saturday, The Super Pit, Denton, Texas
Lamonte Bearden, g, 6-3, r-sr. (8.7 ppg, 3.5 apg); Taveion Hollingsworth, g, 6-2, so. (14.5 ppg, 4.7 rpg); Josh Anderson, g, 6-6, so. (11.9 ppg, 3.8 rpg); Jared Savage, g/f, 6-5, r-jr. (13.3 ppg, 4.6 rpg); Charles Bassey, c, 6-11, fr. (14.5 ppg, 10.3 rpg)
Zachary Simmons, f, 6-10, so. (11 ppg, 6.5 rpg); Ryan Woolridge, g, 6-3, jr. (12.5 ppg, 6.3 rpg); Umoja Gibson, g, 6-1, r-fr. (12.4 ppg, 2.6 rpg); Roosevelt Smart, g, 6-3, jr. (11.8 ppg, 3.7 rpg); Michael Miller, g, 6-3, sr. (11 ppg, 5.2 rpg)
Stadium on Facebook
Rick Stansbury (56-38, third year; 349-204 overall), Western Kentucky; Grant McCasland (40-22, second year; 60-34 overall), North Texas
Western Kentucky leads 20-5 (WKU won last meeting 102-94 in overtime Feb. 15 in Denton)
Last time out
Western Kentucky won 92-85 in double overtime Thursday at Rice; North Texas beat Marshall 78-51 at home Thursday