WKU closes homestand against FIU

WKU senior forward Tashia Brown (10) drives in for a layup during WKU’s game vs Notre Dame on Nov 14, 2017 in E.A. Diddle Arena. WKU lost 65-78.

Tyler Mansfield

Off to a 2-0 start in Conference USA play, the WKU women’s basketball team will conclude its longest homestand of the season on Thursday as it hosts Florida International in Diddle Arena for a 7 p.m. contest.

The Lady Toppers (11-4 overall, 2-0 C-USA) opened the conference portion of their schedule with a 57-43 win over arch-rival Middle Tennessee last Thursday, and then won 81-60 over Southern Mississippi on Saturday.

As it is playing at a high level, WKU knows that it has a target on its back.

“Every time we show up, we’re gonna get everybody’s best game,” WKU coach Michelle Clark-Heard said. “I told everybody that whenever you get into conference you can’t look at anybody’s schedule. You can’t look at their non-conference numbers because it’s a new season.”

FIU (4-11, 1-1 C-USA) enters Thursday’s game in Bowling Green coming off of a conference win. The Panthers suffered a tough 77-76 loss to Texas-El Paso in their first C-USA tilt but then regrouped and recorded a 67-54 win over Marshall.

FIU is led by the duo of Kiandre’a Pound and Kristian Hudson, who average 14.3 and 14.1 points per game, respectively. Pound is nearly averaging a double-double as she also pulls down 9.9 rebounds per game, while Hudson has dished out a team-best 64 assists while starting in all 15 games for the Panthers.

“They get up and down the floor, they shoot the ball well, they have kids that can score in multiple ways and they rebound well,” Clark-Heard said of FIU. “We’re going to have to stay locked in and focused to the things we need to do. Again, we’re always going to focus on our defense and try to get better at that.”

WKU’s defense has been one of its strong suits in 2017-18, and the way the Lady Toppers performed defensively in their first two conference matchups helped them come out victorious in both.

The Lady Toppers forced MTSU to commit 18 turnovers and then followed that outing with another strong defensive showing, forcing Southern Miss into 22 turnovers. In those contests, WKU scored 18 and 26 points off those takeaways on the opposite end of the court.

“I felt like the last two games were two different types of games, but I felt like we grew in both games,” said Clark-Heard. “We’ve just gotta keep learning.”

As Tashia and Ivy Brown lead WKU with 23.1 and 15.5 points per game, respectively, the Lady Toppers have earned very solid production out their underclassmen, two of those being redshirt sophomore forward Dee Givens and true freshman guard Sherry Porter.

Givens is currently averaging 7.2 PPG, while Porter is scoring 4.2 PPG. For Porter, a Baton Rouge, Louisiana native, she said she has been adapting well as a first-year collegiate player on the hill.

“I just do whatever coach asks me to do,” Porter said. “If she told me to run through a wall, I’d run through a wall for her. Coach has really been stressing a lot about defense and it’s defense makes offense, so I try to do my best and play my hardest on defense and try to get stops so we can turn it into offense”

Two teams that spent time together in the Sun Belt Conference, WKU and FIU have played a total of 37 times since the 1998-99 season. The Lady Toppers hold an impressive 28-9 lead in the series, including wins in the last four meetings between the two sides.

Following Thursday’s game, WKU will hit the road to Birmingham, Alabama to take on Alabama-Birmingham on Saturday evening at 6:30 p.m. The Blazers are currently a perfect 7-0 in Bartow Arena this season.

Reporter Tyler Mansfield can be reached at 270-935-0007 and [email protected] Follow him on Twitter @_TylerMansfield.