WKU looks to finish strong before postseason

Red shirt senior Kendall Noble (12) drives for the basket past Old Dominion guard Gianna Smith (5) during the Lady Topper’s 79-73 win over Old Dominion on Saturday Feb. 25, 2017 in Diddle Arena.

Sam Porter

The Lady Tops are just one win away from regular season title.

With just two games until postseason begins, the WKU women’s basketball team is on the brink of a potentially special March. With one win their final two road games, the Lady Tops will wrap up the regular season C-USA title and the No.1 seed in the C-USA tournament for the second time since joining the league in 2014. The only teams that stand in the way of that title are the University of North Texas and Rice University. Neither of those teams currently have more wins than losses in C-USA play.

“These are two teams that we haven’t played, but two teams that are playing very well,” Head Coach Michelle Clark-Heard said. “They’re both very athletic and play two different styles of basketball. North Texas is very quick and athletic team that gets up and down the floor.”

The Lady Tops will face off against the Mean Green tonight at 7 p.m. in the UNT Coliseum. The Mean Green’s 11-16 (8-8 C-USA) record may not come off as impressive, but those 11 wins include road victories over Arizona and Texas San-Antonio, who handed WKU one of its two C-USA losses this season.

Redshirt sophomore guard Terriell Bradley leads the Mean Green in scoring with 12.7 points per game. Three Lady Tops currently average more points per game than Bradley. However, North Texas’s defense has been its strength. The Mean Green defense ranks fifth in C-USA, giving up just 64.1 points per game. Tonight, that fifth ranked defense will likely face its biggest challenge in C-USA play as WKU ranks first in C-USA with 75.5 points per game.

“They do a great job of taking away the different things teams do that cause opposing defenses problems,” Clark-Heard said. “What we have to do is focus on the things that we’re supposed to do and continue the things that we’ve been doing.”

Two days after facing UNT, the Lady Tops will travel to Houston where they will cap off the season against another tough defensive team. Similar to UNT, WKU has three players currently averaging more points per game than Rice’s leading scorer. However, Rice currently ranks first in C-USA in scoring defense as the Lady Owls are giving just over 60 points per game.

“They just know how to hold people defensively and know how to guard and do a lot of things,” Clark-Heard said of Rice. “It’s going to be two tough and different games for us. I’m also just ready for us to be able to do the things we need to do to figure out where we have to be to be able to win.”

With North Texas and Rice currently sitting at eighth and ninth in C-USA, it’s likely the Lady Tops will face off against one of the two teams again in their first game in the C-USA tournament.

If the Lady Tops earn the No. 1 seed as they’re expected to, they’ll get a first-round bye along with the two, three and four seeds. If the season ended today, North Texas and Rice would play each other in the 8-9 matchup and winner would face off against WKU in the second round.

“We’re taking it one game at a time like we always have,” Clark-Heard said.

“We’re focusing on  this North Texas team. After that, we’ll focus on Rice. When the tournament hits, it hits. Whoever we have to play, we’ll play. I think we’ve been preparing our team for that all season.”

After the final two games, the Lady Tops will return to Bowling Green before traveling to Birmingham, Alabama for the Conference USA tournament. The first round begins on March  8.

“You always know what you’re playing for,” junior forward Ivy Brown said. “Right now we’re playing for a regular season championship. Throughout the games, we’re going to keep playing hard because we want that so bad. It’ll be back in of our mind. It’s important to have that number one seed to put yourself in the best position you can for the conference tournament.”

Reporter Sam Porter can be reached at 270-799-8247and [email protected] Follow him on Twitter at @SammyP14.