WKU falls to Notre Dame in “incredible” atmosphere

Tyler Mansfield

It couldn’t pull off the upset, but WKU can’t be anything less than satisfied with the way it performed against No. 6 ranked Notre Dame on Tuesday evening at E.A. Diddle Arena.

In front of an energetic crowd of 5,061, the Lady Toppers battled from the time the ball was thrown up until the final buzzer against one of the nation’s most historic women’s basketball programs. 

“Incredible,” WKU head coach Michelle Clark-Heard said of the scene at Diddle. “When we stood up and did the national anthem and you look around and there aren’t hardly any seats left that you can see, it’s pretty cool and I was really happy for our players to be in this type of atmosphere.” 

The Lady Toppers (1-2 overall) were tied with the Fighting Irish at 21-21 at the 8:32 mark of the second quarter and were only down single digits at halftime, but Notre Dame’s length and athleticism kept WKU from ever getting in front. 

Following its road win, Notre Dame – and Hall of Fame coach – Muffet McGraw praised the type of atmosphere WKU provided and how tough Clark-Heard’s team is. 

“I think it’s important that we take our team on the road to places like this that are going to have a great atmosphere for women’s basketball,” McGraw said. “I thought it was a great game for the fans. They’re a really good team and I’m really impressed with the job that Michelle’s doing. They’re really well coached and they’re a very good team that’s gonna do a lot of damage in (Conference USA).” 

WKU came out of the gates ready to do battle.

Notre Dame took a 15-8 lead at the 4:53 mark of the first quarter, but the Lady Toppers outscored the Fighting Irish 6-2 throughout the remainder of the period to trail by just three at 17-14 after one as Tashia Brown already had 10 points for WKU.

A 3-pointer by Dee Givens at the top of the key made it 19-14 and two Brown free throws shortly after evened the scoreboard at 19-19 with 8:32 remaining in the second. Whitney Creech’s pull-up jumper again tied the game at 21-21, but then a three from Arike Ogunbowale put Notre Dame back in front at 24-21 at the 5:59 mark.

“We didn’t get the ‘w,’ but the effort was there and we fought and just never gave up,” Creech said. “We kept playing the whole time.” 

The Irish pushed their advantage to 33-25 at the 3:16 mark on a left corner triple from Marina Mabrey and Jessica Shepard’s open layup on a fastbreak following Mabrey’s score then gave them a 35-25 lead.

WKU into the locker room at halftime down 37-28 while Brown had 12 points and seven rebounds to pace it. Shepard had 15 and nine for Notre Dame.

Brown finished with 25 points (13-14 free throws) to lead all scorers while grabbing 10 rebounds. Creech added 17 points, five rebounds and two assists.

“They provided a lot of matchup problems for us,” said McGraw. “You’ve gotta be weary of where (Tashia)’s going to be – you put her on the free-throw line and she couldn’t miss a free throw. She really has a nice game. (Whitney) is really savy and she’s just really smart. It seems like she has a really good basketball IQ.” 

WKU shot just 9-of-40 from the floor field in the first half and went 1-9 from three-point land. The Lady Toppers were winning the rebounding battle 28-22 and had committed eight turnovers to the Fighting Irish’s nine.

The Lady Toppers continued to give it their all in the second half.

WKU used a 7-0 run to open the third and cut its deficit to 38-34 after a basket by Ivy Brown. A deep two-point jumper by Tashia Brown followed by an Ivy Brown steal, which led to a layup by freshman Sherry Porter, brought it to within 41-38 at the 5:50 mark.

“I took to them about doing the little things and making sure we got the crowd into it and be able to stay in the game and I was really proud,” said Clark-Heard. “I looked up one time and we were down 3. We’ve just gotta continue to keep building.”

Along with Porter solid play, freshman forward Raneem Elgedawy finished with 12 points and eight rebounds.

“I was really glad that our freshman came out and weren’t scared,” Tashia Brown said. “We came out and we fought until the end – and I’m proud of that.”

Notre Dame responded, hitting five of its next six shots to go up 51-41 with 2:37 left in the quarter. However, WKU did quite the same and went on a 6-0 run to get back to within four points at 51-47 at the 1:04 mark and bring the Diddle crowd to its feet. 

WKU trailed 56-49 entering the fourth after the Irish tacked on five additional points to close out the quarter. 

Creech nailed a three from the left corner to make it 61-54, but Lili Thompson matched it on the opposite end with one of her own to put the Notre Dame back up 64-54. Notre Dame then took its largest lead of 13 at 71-58 with 3:44 remaining on a Vaughn basket and sealed it.

WKU returns to action with another test Friday at Indiana.

“Indiana’s really good,” Clark-Heard said. “They’re big and they have an unbelievable point guard in (Tyra) Buss. So we’re gonna probably be facing the same things that we’ve been facing for the past three games.”

Women’s basketball beat writer Tyler Mansfield can be reached at (270) 935-0007 and [email protected]. Follow him on Twitter @_TylerMansfield.