Toppers fall to No. 5 Louisville 78-55

A roster full of injuries hurt WKU's comeback chances in a 78-55 loss to No. 5 Louisville in Nashville Saturday night.

With a team that featured A.J Slaughter, Jeremy Evans and Steffphon Pettigrew, Western Kentucky was able to pull a massive upset over No. 3 Louisville in 2008 in Nashville.

But the Sun Belt school couldn't pull off the repeat in 2012.

No. 5 Louisville (11-1 overall) soundly defeated the Hilltoppers (8-5 overall) in Nashville last night, by a final score of 78-55.

WKU finished 19-for-49 overall from the field (39 percent), but struggled to 8-for-27 (30 percent) in the first half, adding 13 turnovers in the same period.

Louisville's 16-for-31 (52 percent) start helped them to a 40-22 halftime lead, a deficit that proved too big to overcome for the weakened Hilltoppers.

"We got it down to 12 there in the second half," WKU head coach Ray Harper said. "Then Russ Smith hit a tough 3 from the corner.

"Our kids competed and I'm really proud of them. Eddie (Alcantara) hasn't played a lot and he really stepped in and played well tonight. Percy (Blake) walked on and now he's in the starting lineup."

The comparisons to the 2008 upset were/are inevitable, but simply unfair to make with a WKU roster decimated with injuries.

Already without senior point guard Jamal Crook, junior guard Caden Dickerson, and sophomore forward Nigel Snipes, sophomore guard T.J Price managed only 8 first half minutes before being pulled with a lingering injury, while sophomore guard Kevin Kaspar only managed 9 first half minutes.

"We thought T.J. and Kevin were ready to go," Harper said. "And they re-tweaked some things early.

"Both wanted to go back and I said, ‘That's it, we're not taking a chance tonight. No way.'"

The loss to Louisville ended a tough three game skid for the Hilltoppers, a run that also included losses at Murray State and at VCU.

Despite the rough stretch of road games, junior guard Brandon Harris said WKU is ready to get back to work.

"Now when it comes tournament time, we're gonna have a deeper bench than we would've had if we didn't suffer these injuries," Harris said. "We've done better and we're getting a lot better through this past week that we've went through."

While those comments may sound like usual coach/player speak, the post-game demeanor of Harper and his players proved they have faith in each other.

There weren't any heads hung low after the tough loss, no excuses or attribution to the injuries for the poor performance.

Harper and his players maintained that they'll be better off from this tough 0-3 stretch, and they very well may be right.

Alcantara seemed to finally shake the "freshman blues" off, turning in a career high of 11 points on 3-of-6 shooting and 5-of-6 free throws against the Cardinals.

Harris, a junior college transfer, proved he can shoulder the load if needed, leading WKU in points (14), rebounds (7), assists (3), and steals (3) against Louisville.

So while they aren't as capable as Jeremy Evans, A.J Slaughter, and Steffphon Pettigrew right now--the Hilltoppers are still on the right track.

The best coaches know that ultimately, the regular season is just preparation for the postseason--and Western Kentucky has already learned that in Harper's first full-year as head coach.

The Hilltoppers will get four days to rest and heal before their next game on Dec. 27, a home tilt against Florida International.

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