Lady Toppers fall to USD in WNIT

Redshirt senior guard Micah Jones (5) passes the ball across the court during WKU’s 98-51 win over Young Harris College on Thursday, Nov. 3, 2016, at Diddle Arena. Michelle Hanks/HERALD

Evan Heichelbech

The WKU women’s basketball season came to an end on Sunday with a 68-54 loss at the hands of South Dakota two days after a thrilling buzzer-beating win at St. Louis.

Kendall Noble, Tashia Brown, Ivy Brown and Jalyyn McClain combined for 72 of WKU’s 78 points on Friday in St. Louis.

However, none of the four Lady Toppers who scored in double figures were credited with the most important three points of WKU’s 78-76 overtime victory over St. Louis in the Sweet Sixteen of the WNIT.

Freshman guard Sidnee Bopp had scored nine field goals all season long and averaged 1.2 points per game in about eight minutes of action.

But none of that mattered after she banged home the buzzer-beating three-pointer from the corner to lift WKU over St. Louis and put them into the Elite Eight of the WNIT.

“That’s a good team that we played,” St. Louis head coach Lisa Stone said in a postgame radio interview. “It was a game that could’ve gone either way. I’m very very proud of our players. Congratulations to Western Kentucky. That’s a really good team.”

Sophomore guard Tashia Brown had a game-high 22 points and junior guard Noble threatened yet another triple-double with 21 points, nine rebounds and nine assists. Sophomore forward Ivy Brown had a double-double with 17 points and 11 rebounds, and senior forward McClain added 12 points.

St. Louis held a consistent lead through the second half, but the Lady Toppers kept it close and tied the game at 48 near the end of the third quarter.

St. Louis guard Sadie Stipanovich sent the game to overtime with two free throws with 2.1 seconds on the clock in regulation.

The extra period had five lead changes over the final two minutes, and Billiken’s guard Olivia Jakubicek’s jumper with .9 seconds remaining drastically lowered the Lady Toppers’ chances of winning.

But then Bopp came up with the biggest shot of her life to keep WKU’s season alive.

Sunday was less thrilling for the Lady Toppers. Both teams got off to a slow start, but South Dakota was able to build a 19-11 lead after the first quarter, capped off by a halfcourt 3-pointer at the buzzer by South Dakota guard Jasmine Trimboli.

Noble led WKU with 21 points and 3 assists but struggled against the Coyote defense, which forced the C-USA Player of the Year into six turnovers.

The Lady Toppers fought back in the second quarter and tied the game before the Coyotes took a 31-29 lead into halftime.

Ivy Brown’s basket early in the third quarter knotted the game at 31, and that was the closest WKU would get. South Dakota never trailed after that and carried a 10-point lead into the final quarter en-route to the double-digit victory.

“This will pay dividends down the road,” WKU’s Associate Head Coach Greg Collins said in a postgame radio interview. 

Tashia Brown was the only other Lady Topper in double figures with 12 points, and Ivy Brown nearly had another double-double with eight points and 10 rebounds.

“The kids battled tonight,” Collins said. “We didn’t play our best ballgame, but Ivy Brown went in there and she battled with two or three bigs all night on the boards. She never wavered. She didn’t win every battle in there, but she kept fighting, and that was huge. Kendall kept doing what she [did] all year. We just didn’t do our job on the defensive end, and that’s something we can learn from.”

Head Coach Michelle Clark-Heard is known for her defensive schemes, but her team ran into a defensive force in South Dakota.

“This is the best shooting team we’ve played all year, and it’s one of — if not the — toughest teams, and that’s an unusual combination,” Collins said. “Kendall and Tashia led the conference in minutes played all year, and we’ve travelled in conference play and played on Thursday [and] Saturday the last two months. The bottom line is that South Dakota played harder than we did tonight, and they did a better job executing their defensive game plan than we did ours.”

The loss marked the final game for McClain, who amassed 75 starts in 129 appearances and is tied for eighth-most in program history.

Besides McClain, every player will return next season with senior guard Micah Jones expected to receive a medical redshirt after suffering a season-ending knee injury against Louisville in the second game of the season.

The Lady Toppers finished the season at 27-7 and one game short of a semifinal appearance in the WNIT in what was considered by some to be a rebuilding year.