WKU getting defensive effort on a nightly basis

Head coach Michelle Clark-Heard talks to the team during a timeout in the game against Notre Dame Tuesday, Nov. 14 in EA Diddle Arena. Clark-Heard has preached defensive effort this season.

Tyler Mansfield

WKU head coach Michelle Clark-Heard has made it clear many times this season that her WKU team puts a majority of its focus on defense and lets the offense come as a result of their play defensively.  

The way WKU has performed on that side of the ball this year has helped the team win games when the offense isn’t clicking.  

In the Lady Toppers’ Conference USA opener back on Jan. 4 against rival Middle Tennessee, they struggled shooting the ball but used their defense to earn a 57-43 win. WKU forced 18 turnovers that evening and scored 18 points off those takeaways, while holding MTSU to 33 percent shooting from the field (13-of-40) on the night.  

“We couldn’t throw a ball in the ocean if the ocean was sitting right there,” Clark-Heard said after the win over MTSU. “But you know what? That’s OK. I’ve been on this team so much about defense, and man, the way we played tonight – just our pressure, our helping, just everything. It was great team basketball.”  

The Lady Toppers are holding their opponents to 63.7 points per game, forcing 18.3 turnovers per game and turning those turnovers into 18.9 points of their own. WKU is out-rebounding its competition by 3.2 rebounds nightly, recording 10.1 steals and blocking 3.9 shots each game.

WKU leads C-USA in steals, turnover margin (+6.9), offensive rebounds (16.6) and offensive rebound percentage (.425).

Against Florida International Jan. 11, WKU rolled to a lopsided 101-47 win, and it was a result of its defense limiting FIU and leading to opportunities on the offensive end. Dee Givens finished with a double-double of 16 points and 10 rebounds that night and earned recognition for her play defensively.

“Dee started out on defense and then let her offense carry over,” Ivy Brown said of her teammate’s performance. “She rebounded huge, and we need another person like that to rebound for us. For her to come in and do that, we just need her to carry that over and be consistent in the rest of the games as well.”

WKU’s defense took another step forward in its latest home game vs. Texas-San Antonio last Thursday. The Lady Toppers forced UTSA into 25 turnovers, turned those takeaways into 19 points on the other end of the court and held the Roadrunners to 20 percent shooting from the floor.

It was the best field goal percentage WKU allowed in a single game since holding Interamerican University to 16 percent shooting Dec. 20, 1993.

Additionally, WKU held UTSA’s leading scorer, Marie Benson, to just nine points in the 73-38 thumping. “We really focused on that. It was huge for us,” Ivy Brown said of WKU’s defensive intensity. “We always talk about letting our defense dictate our offense instead of the other way around. We just played aggressive – and that led to our offense.”

WKU, which is coming off an 86-66 win Sunday at Marshall, returns to action Friday at North Texas. In the last meeting between the two sides, the Lady Toppers beat the Mean Green 78-51 in the quarterfinals of the 2017 C-USA Tournament.  

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