Lady Toppers ready to battle with Notre Dame

Tyler Mansfield

After opening its 2017 season with an upset over No. 16 Missouri in the Hawkeye Challenge last Friday, WKU now turns its attention to an even larger task.

The Lady Toppers (1-1 overall), fresh off their second-place finish in the tournament in Iowa City, Iowa, will host perennial powerhouse Notre Dame – the No. 6 team in the country – inside Diddle Arena on Tuesday at 7 p.m.

“It’s fantastic,” WKU Athletic Director Todd Stewart said Monday. “I give Michelle [Clark] Heard credit for scheduling this game and I give Notre Dame and Muffet McGraw credit for playing it because it’s become a challenge for us to have good opponents come in here.”

Notre Dame travels to Bowling Green for the first time after the Fighting Irish tipped their season off on Saturday with a 121-65 victory over Mount St. Mary’s. In what marked the Fighting Irish’s 23rd consecutive season-opening win, junior guard Arike Ogunbowale led the way with 21 points, seven rebounds and four assists.

“I think it says a lot for our program. For a top team in the country year in and year out to come into our arena first and play us, it’s huge,” senior forward Ivy Brown said. “I’m really excited to get out there and compete again.”

In the Lady Toppers’ convincing win over Missouri, senior guard Tashia Brown scored 13 of WKU’s 18 points in the fourth quarter and finished with 30 on the day. Sophomore guard Dee Givens, who didn’t see much playing time last year, scored 20 points for the Lady Toppers.

WKU outscored the Tigers 27-17 in the second quarter to carry a 10-point lead of 45-35 into halftime. Missouri tied the game at 70 with 2:04 remaining, but junior guard Sidnee Bopp answered with a 3-pointer. Brown then scored the last six points for the Lady Toppers to seal the deal.

With the 79-76 upset, WKU has now knocked off a Top 25 team for a third-straight season.

“We have an elite program here, too,” Stewart said. “In the five years that Michelle has been here as our head coach, we’re averaging 26 wins a year, been to three NCAA tournaments and you look at this past weekend – beating Missouri and taking Iowa into overtime on the road. In the last three years, we’ve beaten a ranked team from the ACC, the SEC and the Big Ten. Michelle has done a great job.”

Notre Dame will be the highest-ranked opponent WKU has hosted since No. 4 Louisville visited on Nov. 27, 2013. Throughout the preseason to now, Clark-Heard has reiterated that she sets out every season to find the toughest competition to put on her team’s schedule, especially for the home fans.

“I am so grateful for Coach Muffet because there are a lot of teams that won’t come here and play us,” Clark-Heard said during WKU’s media day back in October. “I set out every year to try and get the best here for our fans, our community and just for the game of women’s basketball. I hope on Nov. 14 that people really, really understand that this place should be packed.”

Clark-Heard mentioned again Monday about just how special it is to have the opportunity to welcome a club like Notre Dame into Bowling Green.

“The ability that we’ve been able to do the things we have in the past five years, it’s been hard to get teams to come here and play us,” she said. “This a big game – I’m really excited for our community, I’m excited for women’s basketball and just for our players to have the chance to play against a great team.”

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