Lady Toppers receive bid to big dance, earn 12 seed

WKU senior guard Ileana Johnson (24) drives against several Old Dominion defenders during the team’s Conference USA tournament semifinal matchup against Old Dominion University Friday March 13, 2015 at Legacy Arena in Birmingham, Ala. Despite leading by 22 points early in the first half the game became closely contested in the final seconds. WKU would go on to win 61-52 and advance to the Championship game tomorrow Saturday March 14 against Southern Mississippi University. Luke Franke/HERALD

Jonah Phillips

The Lady Topper basketball team is going dancing in Berkeley, California.  WKU received its second consecutive bid to the NCAA tournament on Monday night, receiving the Conference USA’s only automatic bid.

The C-USA’s only automatic bid went to the 30-4, 16-2 in league play, Lady Toppers after dishing out a 60-57 victory in the conference championship against Southern Miss. 

“[We’re] excited. Just excited about this opportunity with what the group has done,” Head Coach Michelle Clark-Heard said. “To be able to go to back-to-back NCAA tournaments is something special, especially since it hasn’t been done since 1997-1998.”

The Lady Toppers are one of just nine teams in the entire 64-team tournament to register 30+ wins this season, including South Carolina (30-2), Maryland (30-2), UConn (32-1), and Notre Dame (31-2), Baylor (30-3), Florida Gulf Coast (30-2), Princeton (30-0), and Quinnipiac (31-3).  

The 12th-seeded Lady Toppers will play fifth-seeded Texas, on Friday at 4 p.m. at the Haas Pavilion. 

Texas enters the tournament boasting a 22-10 record and just a 9-9 mark in Big 12 play, but with their strength of conference and schedule, were awarded a five seed.

“I’ve watched them of course,” Clark-Heard said. “They are very athletic, they have a big player that’s very good and they like to get to the basket, so we just have to go and do a lot of work right now.”

The Lady Toppers were placed in the Albany region, joining Louisville and Kentucky in that quarter of the bracket; though, in the first and the second rounds, the Lady Toppers will be competing in California at host school and 4 seed California Golden Bears (24-9, 13-5 Pac-12). 

No matter the seed or the destination, the coaching staff and players are excited to continue postseason play.

“I think the girls are just super excited,” Clark-Heard said. “At this point, I feel for our fans, because I think we had a great following this year. But at the end of the day, you can’t control what they think, when they get behind closed doors, so we are just happy.”

Senior Alexis Govan, who was named C-USA tournament MVP, said the team wasn’t thinking about the seed before or after the announcement.

“Seeds don’t matter. All that matters is what you do when tip goes up and that ball is in the air.  That’s all that matters,” Govan said. “We weren’t really expecting anything. We just wanted an opportunity to play in the postseason and keep on playing.”

Govan missed the better part of last season, including all of postseason play due to a fractured tibia, but she is excited to be an active and pivotal part of the team this time around.

“[I’m] super excited,” Govan said. “It’s just another opportunity for me to compete in the postseason with my team, which I didn’t get to do last year.”

The Lady Toppers will look to leave a more lasting impact on the NCAA tournament this time around. Last season’s clash with Baylor in the first round was WKU’s first appearance in the tournament in six seasons, and the Lady Toppers fell to the historically dominant Baylor 87-74.