With NCAA Tournament bid at stake, Western Kentucky ready for Old Dominion

Western Kentucky has seen plenty of ups and downs this season, but the Hilltoppers can make it all worthwhile with a win Saturday night in the Conference USA Tournament championship game.

WKU (20-13, 11-7 C-USA) is a talented team that has disappointed at times this year, with big wins over St. Mary’s and Wisconsin offset by several head-scratching losses. But the Hilltoppers have looked better recently, advancing through the conference tournament’s opening rounds with victories over North Texas and Southern Miss.

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Saturday night, though, will be the toughest challenge yet. WKU will take on Old Dominion, C-USA’s regular season champ, with an automatic bid to the NCAA Tournament on the line. Tipoff is set for 8:30 p.m. at the Ford Center in Frisco, Texas (in the Dallas-Fort Worth area).

From Friday: Bassey leads WKU past Southern Miss in Conference USA semis

See also: ‘No excuses’ this time as UK and Tennessee clash in SEC Tournament

ODU (25-8, 13-5) has had success against the Hilltoppers this season, but it’s been close – the Monarchs won both regular season games by a total of seven points. Las Vegas leans towards WKU in round three, with the Hilltoppers listed as a two-point favorite in the pregame point spread.

WKU is built around freshman center Charles Bassey, a former top-10 recruit averaging 14.6 points and 10 rebounds per game. Sophomore guard Taveion Hollingsworth, who won Kentucky’s 2017 Mr. Basketball with Paul Laurence Dunbar High School, also averages 14.6 points, while Josh Anderson provides highlight dunks to go with his 12.2 scoring average.

Meet Charles Bassey: How a basketball prodigy ended up at a Louisville high school

On Western Kentucky: Hilltoppers can make NCAA Tournament run if they get there

ODU relies on high-scoring guards B.J. Stith and Ahmad Caver, a veteran duo that averages a combined 33.7 points per game.

A win by the Hilltoppers would make history. With Murray State and Northern Kentucky having earned automatic bids by winning their conferences and Kentucky and Louisville considered locks to make the field regardless, a WKU victory would mean that for the first time ever, five teams from the Bluegrass State are in the NCAA Tournament. But hey, no pressure, right?

Lucas Aulbach can be reached at laulbach@courier-journal.com, 502-582-4649 or on Twitter @LucasAulbachCJ. Support strong local journalism and subscribe: www.courier-journal.com/lucasa.

WESTERN KENTUCKY VS. OLD DOMINION
When:
8:30 p.m. (Eastern time)
Where: Ford Center – Frisco, Texas
TV: CBS Sports Network
Radio in Louisville: WXVW – 96.1 FM, 1450 AM
Point spread: WKU is a 2-point favorite

Published 12:43 PM EDT Mar 16, 2019