Team Profile: 2006 BracketBuster Recap: Western Kentucky 79, Northern Arizona 58

by David Mihm | February 18th, 2006

Diddle Arena, Bowling Green, Ky.

Northern Arizona’s travel agent may have been the real winner in this game.

The Lumberjacks were coming off of nearly 30 hours of travel in the previous three days, including two wake-up calls prior to 4:30 am. NAU hung with the Hilltoppers in the first half, matching them possession-for-possession, but lost their shooting legs and mental toughness in the second half, and Western Kentucky ran away with the game.

Anthony Winchester and Courtney Lee were sensational for Western Kentucky, combining for 55 of the Hilltoppers’ 79 points. Winchester was 3-4 from beyond the arc, while Lee was 2-5. But it was Lee’s consistent ability to penetrate the lane which really sealed the game.

Western Kentucky employed a full-court pressure defense for most of the game, which led to a few NAU turnovers, but also led to several easy baskets, of both the lay-up and three-point varieties. Even when WKU was able to get back on defense, the Lumberjacks were able to set up their offense more quickly than Western could adjust.

Western Kentucky’s own ballhandling was sloppy, as they committed seven turnovers in the first ten minutes of the game. But their three-point shooting more than made up for it, as they took a three-point halftime lead thanks in part to NAU’s soft defense.

The rebounding battle wasn’t much of a battle at all and was a significant reason for the home team’s victory. The Hilltoppers outrebounded their visitors 39-13.

It’s hard to gauge Northern Arizona’s chances for a first-round NCAA upset, because they seemed so tired for most of the game. NAU’s big men seemed slow, but were fundamentally sound on offense. Guard Kelly Golob greatly impressed on offense, hitting 4-5 from three-point range. It was the defense which worried me, though, and the Lumberjacks just didn’t have the energy to contest missed shots. I don’t think NAU has enough talent to knock off a #1 or #2 seed in the Big Dance, but should they slide up to that #14 seed line, a win over a small, perimeter-oriented #3 seed (Tennessee, anyone?) isn’t out of the question. There will likely be better Cinderellas once the bracket is announced.

Western Kentucky could very well be one of those. Though they rely a bit too much on the three-point shot, if it’s falling for the Hilltoppers, they’ll be very dangerous. Courtney Lee can put the team on his back, and has the athletic ability to get into the lane in a late-game situation. Their full-court pressure might cause problems for teams that don’t value every possession (Kansas?), and their guards crash the glass almost as well as Villanova’s. Take a hard look at the Hilltoppers as your Cinderella if they climb to the #12 or #13 seeding line.

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