As the postseason gets closer, every game seems to get a little more crucial for the WKU women’s basketball team. That statement is especially true in the Conference USA this season.
More than halfway through the season, WKU, Charlotte and Middle Tennessee are tied atop the C-USA standings with 7-2 records in conference play. For the Lady Toppers, the next hurdle in their pursuit of the No. 1 seed in the C-USA tournament comes tonight against Louisiana Tech who boasts a 10-10 (5-4 C-USA) record.
WKU is coming off a heartbreaking road loss against UTSA, a game in which they led for three quarters and gave up 80 points — the highest total they’ve given up all season in games that ended in regulation.
“When it got late, they made some big plays,” Head Coach Michelle Clark-Heard said about the loss. “With our rotation and the way we were guarding them and changing up our defenses, we were just a half second late at times. They got some fifty-fifty balls that we got our hands on and they took advantage of it. I think that was the difference.”
Despite failing to capitalize on the opportunity to take sole possession of first place in the conference, the Lady Tops are 5-0 this season after coming off a loss and will look to push that mark to 6-0 when the Lady Bulldogs come to town.
In those five games, the Lady Tops have outscored their opponents by an average of 20.2 points per game.
“It says a lot about the resilience of our crew,” Clark-Heard said. “I think the most important thing that everyone understands is that it’s a long season and it would be awesome to win every game, but these are young ladies working every day trying to be the best they can be. So our job as a staff is to put them in that position so we can keep getting better. We hit February pretty soon so we just want to continue to be the best we can be.”
Louisiana Tech enters Diddle Arena looking to move up in the conference ranks itself. If the Lady Bulldogs can pull the upset, they will move into fifth place behind the three teams tied for first and fourth-place Southern Mississippi.
The Lady Bulldogs are primarily led by the two-headed monster that is Kierra Anthony and Jasmine LeBlanc. Anthony comes into the game averaging 12.9 points per game and 3 assists per game while LeBlanc averages 12.5 points per game and 9.2 rebounds per game, good enough for third in C-USA.
“They’re very athletic,” Clark-Heard said about the Lady Bulldogs. “Kierra Anthony can get to the basket, she can shoot the three, and can pull up. Then they have Jasmine LeBlanc who is very athletic and is almost averaging a double-double this year. They have kids that can shoot the three and they’re going to press us.”
Redshirt senior guard Kendall Noble will most likely be the Lady Topper to match up against Anthony. Junior forward Ivy Brown, who ranks fourth in C-USA at eight rebounds per game, will likely be tasked with handling LeBlanc underneath. Offensively, the Lady Tops rank first in the conference in points per game (75.8) and will be facing a team that will likely show signs of pressing and play zone in the half-court.
The Lady Bulldogs’ zone has caused problems for all of their opponents to date, as their opponents are shooting just 37.5 percent from the field, which ranks first in C-USA for opponents’ field goal percentage.
“They’re in the zone most of the time and they’re very active,” Clark-Heard said. “They can get their hand on the ball in the lane sometimes, so we’re going to have to take care of the basketball and make sure that we’re getting the shots we need to and getting the ball reversed.”
Tip-off is set for tonight at 7 p.m. in Diddle Arena.
Reporter Sam Porter can be reached at 270-123-456 and [email protected] Follow him on Twitter at @SammyP14.