The Texas State women’s basketball team will play the Western Kentucky Hilltoppers at home Wednesday in their second matchup this season.
The Bobcats scored 46 points in the second half of the teams’ last contest Feb. 1, securing the 72-63 victory. The Hilltoppers, who are 10-3 at home this season, have won three consecutive home games by an average of 27.3 points since the loss.
Western Kentucky is 9-5 in the Sun Belt Conference, tied with Texas State and Arkansas-Little Rock for second place. The Bobcats can clinch the season-series and the tiebreaker with a win against the Hilltoppers.
“The team understands they (the Hilltoppers) are even better than when we played them,” said Coach Zenarae Antoine. “They’ve returned basically everyone, except for one player. That’s a championship team. It’s taken awhile, and they’ve been rolling. They have their eye on postseason play, and we cannot afford to slip up. We need to stay sharp.”
Western Kentucky is second in defense and third in offense. It has outscored opposition by 8.5 points per game this season, ranking first in the conference.
Chastity Gooch, Western Kentucky forward, is averaging 18 points, nine rebounds and 1.52 blocks per game this season. Gooch, a preseason All-American candidate, is in the top five in points, rebounds, blocks and field goal percentage in the conference.
Gooch scored 6 points on 1 of 6 shooting in the second half against Texas State earlier this season, finishing with 15 points and seven rebounds. Western Kentucky made 29.6 percent of its shots in the half, down from a 43 percent average.
“We did a decent job defensively on Gooch,” Antoine said. “We did a good job contesting shots, making it difficult and rebounding. We were also pretty good offensively. They threw some different looks at us, and we did a good job being patient, finding open seams and knocking down shots on the road, which is really hard to do.”
Texas State’s loss to Arkansas State Saturday completed a stretch of four games in seven nights, including three on the road. The Bobcats traveled approximately 3,476 miles.
“The team’s ability to rest is going to be important,” Antoine said. “I don’t know how many fans understand what this team has gone through, relative to our counterparts. There’s a lot that weighs into the overall fatigue of an athlete, mentally and physically.”
Ashley Ezeh, senior forward, averaged 12 points, 6.3 rebounds and 45.7 percent shooting during the seven-day stretch.
“Travel impacts a lot,” Ezeh said. “We’ve been traveling day after day, taking charter planes. I’ve never taken a charter plane. It takes a toll on your body, especially when you are already having soreness, tendonitis and stuff like that.”
Ezeh, one of three seniors, leads the team in points, rebounds, blocks and field goal percentage.
Ezeh scored a season-low 2 points against Western Kentucky in the previous game. She had six rebounds, but missed all six shots and picked up her fifth foul with 6:29 remaining in the second half.
The Bobcats trailed at halftime Feb. 1 against Western Kentucky. They have trailed in 14 of 25 games this year.
Four teams in the Sun Belt have winning streaks of two games or longer. The gap between the second and sixth seed is three games.
“I just take it as another game,” Ezeh said. “Every game is important. It’s another key matchup. This one just happens to decide the second seed.”