Defensive intensity key to recent Lady Topper success

Alec Jessie

After a blowout loss at Rice a couple weeks ago, the Lady Toppers needed a different mentality. The answer was simple: defensive intensity.

WKU women’s basketball head coach Michelle Clark-Heard wanted to emphasize that defense should be the forefront of her team’s focus, regardless of if they’re lighting up the scoreboard.

“We were focusing on defense and rebounding,” Clark-Heard said after Saturday’s win over Marshall University. “That’s something we have to make sure we continue to do because that’s the type of team we are.”

“I think we went back to the drawing board and just really focused back on defense,” junior guard Dee Givens said. “We let the way we played on offense dictate how we played on defense the past couple games. So we went back and tried to focus on defense.”

The results have been quite telling. During the Lady Toppers’ back-to-back wins over rival Middle Tennessee State University and Marshall, The Lady Toppers have held their opponents to just 55 points per game and 37 percent shooting from the field. The Lady Toppers also forced  20 turnovers in each game and notched 10+ steals per game. They only gave up nine 3-point makes over the two game span.

Clark-Heard also noticed this positive trend and was very pleased with her players’ effort.

“I think we picked it up,” Clark-Heard said. “We came off of playing really good defense at Middle, and there were moments where I thought we could’ve had a little more pressure, but I was really proud of my defense.”

Part of the Lady Toppers’ strong defensive play was their ability to change how they defended their opponents during the games.

“Sometimes in that zone it’s hard to be aggressive,” Clark-Heard said. “We changed up a little bit and went man-to-man and tried to do some more things.”

A key part of the Lady Toppers’ recent success of defense has been senior forward Ivy Brown. She has cleaned up the glass for the Lady Toppers, grabbing double-digit rebounds in back-to-back games. She’s also averaged fours steals a game.

Both Clark-Heard and Givens gave their endorsement for Conference USA defensive player of the year to Brown after Saturday’s victory.

“She’s really locked in to doing whatever needs to be done,” Clark-Heard said. “She’s aggressive. She does it all for us. I challenge them every game to take a charge, and she is always one of the ones that takes a charge. Her game has evolved and grown so much. She’s a student of the game and wants to be great.”

“She can guard both a guard and a post,” Givens said of Ivy Brown. “I don’t think a lot of post players in the league can guard both a guard and a post. She gets a lot of hands on balls and gets a lot steals.”

Even though the Lady Toppers have found their identity as a team, it only gets harder from here. The Lady Toppers finish the year against Charlotte and then play two crucial road games at University of Southern Mississippi and at University of Texas-El Paso.

With UNC Charlotte’s win over University of Alabama-Birmingham on Saturday, the Lady Toppers control their own destiny to a regular season conference title. Clark-Heard is very happy with how her team got in this position.

“To be sitting in the position we’re in right now with three games left says a lot about who they are and their character,” Clark-Heard said of her players. “I’m blessed to be able to coach players like Ivy and Tashia and the rest of these young ladies.”

Friday, Feb. 23, will be senior night for Ivy and Tashia Brown. The Lady Toppers will take on Charlotte with the game is slated to tip off at 7 p.m.

Sports reporter Alec Jessie can be reached at 502-648-7190 and [email protected]. Follow Alec on Twitter at @Alec_Jessie.