Conference race heating up as Lady Tops travel to Marshall

Sam Porter

The phrase “take it one game at a time” is a sentiment coaches across the country use to keep their teams from overlooking weaker opponents.

As the end of the regular season draws nearer and nearer, that statement especially holds true for three women’s basketball teams in Conference USA. WKU, Charlotte and Middle Tennessee State all boast 9-2 records in the conference with seven games left in the regular season.

The Lady Tops will look for revenge against Charlotte at home on February 23 after an 89-85 overtime loss to the 49ers earlier this season. The Lady Tops will also look to sweep MTSU after thumping the Lady Raiders 66-51 at home earlier this season.

However, head coach Michelle Clark-Heard is a firm believer in taking it one game at a time, and this week is no different.

“I think every game in the conference is a big win just because they are hard to come by in this tough conference,” Clark-Heard said after a victory earlier this season.

Before they try to knock MTSU out of the three-way tie, the Lady Tops will travel to Huntington, West Virginia this Saturday for a matchup against Marshall — the team that ended WKU’s NCAA tournament hopes in the C-USA tournament last March.

The Lady Tops already avenged their loss once earlier this season, defeating the Thundering Herd 73-57 in Bowling Green on January 21.

“You know, it’s always in the back of your head,” junior forward Ivy Brown said after avenging their loss from the year before. “But it’s just another chance to put us in a good spot in the conference standings and another chance for ourselves to get better.”

Similar to WKU, the Thundering Herd are led by a trio of scorers. Shayna Gore (17.4 points per game), Kiana Evans (12.5) and forward Talequia Hamilton (11.7) all put up scoring numbers that resemble WKU’s scoring trio of Kendall Noble, Ivy Brown and Tashia Brown.

In the team’s first meeting, the Lady Tops held Gore to just two first-half points before she scored 13 in the second half, ending the game with a team-high 15. However, by the time Gore got the bulk of her points WKU had already gone on a 22-6 run and built a comfortable lead that proved to be too large for the Herd to overcome.

Part of the reason WKU jumped out to such a big lead was because of Noble and Ivy Brown. Noble, the two time defending Defensive Player of the Year in C-USA, was the one largely responsible for limiting Gore, and she still managed to add 17 points of her own on top of six rebounds and six assists.

Ivy Brown led WKU with 22 points and seven rebounds in the runaway victory. Also, the Lady Toppers full-court press forced 17 Marshall turnovers compared to just five for WKU. The one statistical category that Marshall bested the Lady Tops in that opening meeting was in the battle on the boards. The Thundering Herd out rebounded WKU 37-32 in the game while Hamilton recorded the game’s only double with 10 points and 10 rebounds.

The Lady Tops will likely show signs of a pressure defense again to try and disrupt an inexperienced Marshall team that has just four upperclassmen listed on their roster.

Tipoff between the Lady Tops and Marshall is set for 12 p.m. at the Cam Henderson Center in Huntington, West Virginia.

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