Lady Tops move to 4-0 in C-USA play with win over Rice

Redshirt junior guard Kendall Noble drives the ball down the court just ahead of Rice player Adaeze Obinnah during WKU’s game against the Owls on Jan. 15. Jennifer King/HERALD

Evan Heichelbech

The WKU women’s basketball team (13-2) finds itself atop the C-USA standings after Thursday night’s 52-49 victory over a pesky Rice team at Diddle Arena. 

Although the win was a little unorthodox, the end result was still victorious for Head Coach Michelle Clark-Heard and her Lady Toppers.

“I’m just very happy that we pulled it out,” Clark-Heard said, according to a transcript of the post-game press conference. “You’re right, it was very ugly basketball. It’s not what we are accustomed to playing, shooting 29 percent from the field.”

Sophomore guard Tashia Brown led all scorers with 18 points and was joined in double figures by freshman guard Kayla Smith with 10 in an off-shooting night for WKU. The Lady Tops shot just 29.6 percent from the floor and junior guard Kendall Noble was held under double digits for just the second time this season.

Noble still found many ways to affect the game, finishing with 8 points, 8 rebounds, 2 assists and 2 steals. Sophomore forward Ivy Brown didn’t gather what has become a routine double-double as of late, but still managed 6 points and 7 rebounds to help muscle past the Owls of Rice.

The Lady Tops leaned heavily on defense and rebounding, pulling down a season-high 27 offensive boards and holding the opponent to under 69 points for the 14th straight time. Every WKU player that played 10 plus minutes had at least three rebounds and the defense forced 24 Rice turnovers in the game.

“At the end of the day, you have to look at the positives and that’s what I’m trying to do,” Clark-Heard said. “Then really focusing with our group, we’ve been talking a lot about rebounding. So we did that and we just got to put everything together. We’ve got a quick turnaround, we got the win here and we are going to move forward.”

WKU held a steady lead throughout the game, building a double-digit lead twice in the second half, but the visiting Owls kept sneaking back into the game and cut an 11-point WKU lead to just five with 4:25 remaining.

With just under 60 seconds to play, Rice guard Shani Rainey nailed a jumper to cut the lead to just three.

On the final possession, Rice missed two looks at a potential game-tying three-pointer, and WKU came away with the win.

“It was an ugly win, but we’ll take it,” Brown said, according to a transcript of the post-game press conference. “We didn’t come out with energy like we should have. They kind of out hustled us more but luckily we came out with the win. We just have to come out with more energy on Saturday and be ready to play.”

The Lady Tops will take on the University of North Texas at 2 p.m. on Saturday at Diddle.