Lady Topper basketball season comes to an end

Lady Topper senior senior guard, Alexis Govan (21) is congratulated by forward, Jaylnn McClain (33), after scoring three points during the NCAA Division I Women’s Basketball Championship at Haas Pavilion in Berkley, California, Friday, March 20, 2015. Govan scored 20 points during the game. Jeffery Brown/HERALD 

Jonah Phillips

The Lady Toppers put forth a valiant effort, but fell short against the Texas Longhorns in the first round of the NCAA tournament 64-66.

Twelfth seeded WKU ends their inaugural Conference USA season with a 30-5 overall record, a 16-2 mark in league play, both regular and post-season C-USA titles and their second-consecutive trip to the NCAA tournament. 

“We were optimistic that we would have a good season based on how we finished last year and who we had coming back, but I would be lying to you if I told you I thought we would end up winning 30 games. I think while we had high expectations and high goals for this season, the team really exceeded that,” WKU Athletic Director Todd Stewart said. “It was a special group of people that really had a remarkable season.”

“It’s huge,” Stewart said of the exposure WKU gained from playing Texas in the tournament. “… Obviously to play Texas… They have the largest athletics budget in the country with a $165 million budget… to play them on ESPN 2 and perform the way we did, I think it was terrific for our program.”  

Seniors Chastity Gooch and Alexis Govan controlled the Lady Topper offense and combined for 45 of WKU’s 64 points off of a combined 22-of-46 from the field.

“Spectacular players and spectacular people too,” Stewart said of the duo. “They brought so much good to our program, but beyond that to our university, in terms of how they have handled themselves and all they have achieved. 

Gooch notched a game-high 25 points (14 second half) including a 5-for-9 effort from 3-point range. She added six rebounds, two assists and one steal in her final game as a Lady Topper.  Govan went 6-for-16 from the field for 20 points, with a crucial 5-for-9 effort from the free throw line that kept WKU in the game late.

Kendall Noble was the only Lady Topper to pull in double-digit boards— a place where WKU struggled all game. Noble claimed 10 of WKU’s 28 rebounds, which were bested by 49 Texas rebounds.

Where the Lady Toppers did excel was in the turnover margin. They forced 19 Longhorn turnovers for 18 points and only gave up nine.

Of WKU’s 21 buckets on the night, 13 of them came assisted, with Micah Jones leading the pack with a game-high six.    

Sloppy and uninspired play from both teams characterized the first half.  Both teams with lengthy (over five minute) scoring droughts and general struggles from the field left the score tied at 25 at halftime. 

Gooch and Govan led the Lady Toppers in the first half after combining for 21 of WKU’s 25 first-half points.  WKU shot just 29 percent in the first half off of 31 attempts.

“It was great to see Chastity named regular season Player of the Year and Alexis named the tournament MVP because they really were a terrific tandem and it is great to see them get the recognition they deserve,” Stewart said. 

“Chastity ends up as the fourth all time leading scorer for our program, and Alexis was eleventh and Alexis missed 22 games last year. If she doesn’t miss those games last year due to injury, I think they both end up ranking in the top five all time.”

The Lady Toppers came out of halftime with more energy, and after scoring 25 points in the first 20 minutes of the game, had scored five in under the first minute of the second half. The Lady Tops bubbled out to an eight-point lead at 39-31 after two free throws from Chastity Gooch with 12:20 remaining.

WKU did not trail in the second half until the 4:12 mark, when a Longhorn layup gave Texas a 55-57 advantage.  This was a pivotal point in the game, as the Lady Toppers played a possession behind for the rest of the game. 

Down four at 60-64, freshman and former Kentucky Miss Basketball Ivy Brown knocked down the most important 3-pointer of her freshman campaign, bringing the score to 63-64 with 41 seconds remaining.

Govan would tie the game at 64 after a free throw with 25 seconds remaining, but that would be the last points WKU would muster. Two free throws from Texas’ Brooke McCarty pushed the Longhorns past the Lady Toppers in the dying seconds of the match.  

“She has done a remarkable job,” Stewart said of Michelle Clark-Heard. “She inherited a program that had lost 21 games the season before… her first team here had no seniors and only one junior; that is what she inherited.  It was a very young team, and she had to recruit strongly and she has done that. To win 22 games her first year, then 24 last year and go to the NCAA tournament and then win 30 in the C-USA which is actually a record and go to the tournament again, it says a lot.”