“The clever combatant imposes his will on the enemy, but does not allow the enemy’s will to be imposed on him.” Sun Tzu, The Art of War
I want to be upfront and honest with you all before we dig into this game preview. I dislike Western Kentucky University. I don’t dislike the players or the coaches, per se, but mostly it’s that ugly red blob of a mascot that insists on eating everything in it’s path — including adorable canines.
YOU CAN’T EAT PUPPIES BIG RED !!!
In all seriousness though, I love having WKU in Conference USA, and I’m learning to love facing the Tops at least twice a season each year — even if they are having some success against us as of late.
Most of the long time Blazer fans are well aware these two teams have a rich history competing against one another. These successful programs deserve to intersect yearly, and it’s good for college basketball in the South.
UAB owns the all-time series over WKU 21-12 dating back to the first game played in 1981. Gene Bartow, Murry Bartow, Mike Anderson, Mike Davis, and Jerod Haase all faced the Hilltoppers at least once while at the helm. The 33 meetings between the two is the eighth most of any UAB opponent.
The Hilltoppers of Bowling Green, Ky. bested the Blazers in two of their three meetings last season. The first came on the road at E. A. Diddle Arena when WKU ended what was the nation’s longest win streak of 14 games. The second was during the Conference USA basketball tournament when the Blazers lost in front of thousands of NCAA tournament hopeful fans at Legacy Arena in Birmingham.
After the frustrating loss in the Conference USA tournament, UAB was relegated to the NIT and quite frankly hasn’t been the recipient of much good luck since. Revenge and retribution can be inflicted on the Hilltoppers this Thursday, and you can trust the 10 players who had their dancing dream dashed last March will be motivated.
Scouting The Hilltoppers
If you can muster up the energy, press play on the tweet above and you’ll see the most recent starting five for the Hilltoppers. I mentioned earlier that UAB has 10 players returning from the team that lost to WKU last March. WKU has just three.
Let’s take a look at the five most significant contributors for the Hilltoppers.
Justin Johnson ¦ 6-foot-7, 240 lbs. Junior
Johnson was a handful for UAB’s front court last march. He had 14 points and 15 rebounds and controlled the interior the entire game. He’s averaging 13 points and 8.3 rebounds this season and has added the 3-point shot to his repertoire. Johnson is 14-of-29 from behind the arc this season, which is nearly 50 percent. He might not be their most prolific scoring threat, but he is without a doubt their most vital piece overall.
Que Johnson ¦ 6-foot-6, 205 lbs. Senior
The Washington State graduate transfer is a legit power school level guard. He leads WKU in scoring at 15 points per game and can be a lethally streaky 3-point shooter. In their loss at home to Old Dominion he was 5-of-11 from behind the arc, but went 0-of-3 in the game before against Charlotte. Johnson has hit a three in all but one game this season, and he’s hit more than four on three occasions.
Pancake Thomas ¦ 6-foot-4, 195 lbs. Senior
The Hartford graduate transfer came to WKU known as a perimeter sharp shooter having hit 83 last season at 42 percent. It doesn’t look like he’ll match those numbers this season having only hit 29, but much like Que Johnson, he can be very streaky and have a hot night. He’s hit more than four 3-pointers twice this season, and his mid-range pull-up jumper is super smooth and consistent. Thomas is third in scoring on the team averaging 12.5 points per game.
Junior Lomomba ¦ 6-foot-5, 205 lbs. Senior
The Providence graduate transfer has been thrust into the the point guard roll this year much like Deion Lavender was. Their numbers are fairly similar producing mediocre results, which is not their faults being that their both shooting guards naturally. His style of play is similar to the slasher mentality that Hakeem Baxter plays with. Of late he’s played off ball with a pair of freshman running the point. To be quite honest, I’m not sure what to expect from him Thursday, and I bet WKU fans feel the same.
Ben Lawson ¦ 7-foot-1, 235 lbs. Senior
Lawson is a consistent starter but is averaging just 16.4 minutes per game. The Brit big man isn’t much of an offensive threat but is a serviceable paint presence and rim protector blocking 30 shots so far this season. It will be interesting to see how Cokley, Lee, and Mehinti are able to operate around his massive wing span.
Typically the first few Hilltoppers off the bench are forwards Anton Waters and Tennessee transfer Jabari McGee. Waters provides a legit big body in the paint at 6-foot-7, 245 pounds and is a scoring threat of late tallying 11, 14, and 11 points in WKU’s first three games. McGee became eligible in early December and his points and minutes are steadily increasing. He is what you’d expect to see in a 6-foot-7 long, athletic power school level forward.
3 Things To Watch For
- William Lee – WKU is going to throw the kitchen sink at Lee. He’s going to have to be really on to find openings in the paint against their size and length. A couple of timely 3-pointers against mismatched forwards should spread them out though. He’ll need his full skill set Thursday night.
- Turnovers – The Blazers need to continue their stellar defensive play of late and pressure Lomomba and their freshman point guards into turnovers. Not letting Pancake Thomas and Que Johnson find their rhythm will be key.
- Dirk Williams – I’m going to keep typing this until my fingers fall off. Dirk must play with more confidence and willingness to drive to the basket for this team to be successful going forward. If he gets going this week the Blazers will be in a good position to go on a run.