Lady Tops enter C-USA Tournament as favorites

WKU Lady Toppers guard Ima Akpan (20) walk to join her teammates for the national anthem before the before the Lady Toppers’ 73-57 win over Marshall University on Saturday Jan. 21, 2016 at E.A. Diddle arena. The Lady Toppers lead the conference with a 16-2.

Sam Porter

March is upon us, which means that postseason basketball is in full swing.

From this point on, it’s win or the season is finished.

The WKU Women’s basketball team enters the Conference USA tournament as the No. 1 overall seed after clinching the regular season championship outright this past weekend. The Lady Toppers defeated North Texas 75-55 last Thursday to clinch the No. 1 overall seed. Two days later, the Lady Tops defeated Rice 80-75 to spoil the Owls’ senior day and clinch the regular season title outright for the second time in three seasons. The Lady Tops arrived at back in Bowling Green Sunday morning and were welcomed by fans to celebrate.

“Being able to stand up in front of my team and talk about how we accomplished one of our goals is when it hit me,” Head Coach Michelle Clark-Heard said about winning the championship outright. “It was great to have people waiting on you to celebrate. As a coach, that’s  what you dream of for your team.”

WKU, Middle Tennessee State, Southern Mississippi and Louisiana Tech will all receive first round byes in the 12 team tournament in Birmingham, Alabama. The tournament begins tomorrow night where four teams will be eliminated to cut the field to eight teams.

The Lady Tops will face off against the winner between eighth seeded North Texas and ninth seeded UAB on Thursday night. WKU is currently riding a nine-game win streak into the tournament, the longest of any team in the Conference.

“I think we are playing our best ball right now,” Clark-Heard continued. “I think we’re to the point where we’re very comfortable with what we’re doing and everyone is comfortable on the floor. What I love is how different people are stepping up at different times. That’s what great teams do and it helped us clinch this championship.”

The Lady Tops defeated both North Texas and the host UAB by a combined 32 points in the regular season. However, the Lady Tops know they can’t overlook any opponent. Last season, WKU’s season was surprisingly cut short after being upset by sixth seeded Marshall in the second round after sweeping the Thundering Herd by 35 combined points in the regular season.

“We still have a bad taste in our mouth,” redshirt senior guard Kendall Noble said about the Marshall loss last year. “We don’t want that to happen again. I think we’ll be ready and we’ll be prepared. We know we can’t  take any lightly.”

With a victory, the Lady Tops will most likely play the winner of Louisiana Tech and North Carolina Charlotte if Charlotte were to win their first round game. The Lady Tops defeated Louisiana Tech 67-58 in the regular season at Diddle Arena. However, the Lady Tops split the regular season against Charlotte. The Lady 49ers defeated WKU 89-85 in an overtime thriller. The Lady Tops found revenge two weeks ago by a score of 75-74 in another thriller.

With two wins, WKU will likely play second seeded and rival Middle Tennesse State for the championship. The Lady Tops swept MTSU in the regular season. University of Texas-San Antonio, the only C-USA team WKU didn’t defeat in the regular season, is seeded  seventh and wouldn’t play WKU until the championship if both teams were to win all their games.

The C-USA tournament starts Wednesday at 12:30 p.m. when North Texas and UAB face off. The Lady Tops will play the winner Thursday at 12:30. The championship game will be played Saturday at 4:30 p.m.

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