Lady Toppers win two to reclaim lead for C-USA regular season title

WKU players jump off the bench in celebration after their team stopped MTSU from scoring during the final seconds of regulation. Sealing the win for the Lady Toppers. WKU would go on to defeat conference rival MTSU in a game that went down to the final buzzer by a score of 63-60. Placing them at the top of the current Conference USA standings. (Luke Franke/Herald)

Jonah Phillips

The Lady Topper basketball team is perched atop the Conference USA standings after back-to-back home wins this weekend against UAB and the former No. 1 team in the conference, Middle Tennessee State University. 

“It was just a team effort across the boards …” Head Coach Michelle Clark-Heard said after the MTSU game. “We weren’t shooting the ball well at all, but at the end of the day, we found a way to win. This was like a NCAA game—it was a knock-down-drag-out, and I’m just proud that our girls kept battling.”

Senior Alexis Govan had a big weekend, coming up with a game-high of 17 points against UAB to lead the Lady Toppers to a 59-51 win. Against MTSU, she went on to post a double double with 12 points and a game-high of 12 rebounds, in front of a crowd of 3,023 in Diddle Arena for a 63-60 win. 

“It was definitely more physical,” said freshman Ivy Brown, comparing the MTSU matchup to other conference clashes. “But we knew it was going to be more physical—that’s the kind of defense they play, and they are good at it. Emotionally, the fans were more into it than usual, and it definitely helps. It is so much more fun to play with a crowd that is into the game.  

Against UAB, WKU utilized an 11-0 run to build a 15-point lead against the Blazers and utilized defensive stands in both halves against MTSU to edge the Blue Raiders. They ended the first half against MTSU on an 18-2 run and forced a total of 19 turnovers for 29 points in the game.  

“I know 19 turnovers is the difference in the ball game,” said MTSU Head Coach Rick Insell. “We didn’t take care of the ball today — we did a very poor job. (WKU) did a really good job.”

Senior Chastity Gooch added six rebounds and one block against the Blue Raiders to lead the Lady Toppers with 17 points in the victory.  

Clark-Heard emphasized a tenacity in the team’s recent successes that has seen it win its last 5 games, highlighted by the leadership of Govan. 

“We have been talking a lot to them about our tenacity, telling them to keep playing and playing hard and competing,” Clark-Heard said. “That’s why Alexis Govan’s nick-name is ‘Go-Go’, because she is never going to stop.”

The second contest of the weekend saw Clark-Heard uncharacteristically alter her lineup, with junior Jalynn McClain earning the start over senior Ileana Johnson. It was McClain’s first start since a bout with Baylor in the NCAA tournament last season.

 “As a coach, sometimes you have to go with your gut,” Clark-Heard said. “I changed up the starting lineup, and that was the first time I’ve done that in a while. I put Jalynn McClain in because she has been unbelievable in practice, and now, you see why. Without her in the first six minutes, we don’t have a bucket.”

Her first start of the season proved to be an important decision made by the coaching staff, with the forward scoring six of the Lady Toppers first 10 points against the Blue Raiders, and her work-ethic was something that her other team mates have noticed. 

“She was huge,” said junior Micah Jones. “She came out and played with confidence and knocked down shots when we were struggling to make any. She just came out with energy and always plays good defense — she really showed up today,”

The Lady Toppers are now perched atop the C-USA standings with a 13-2 record in the league and an overall of 24-4. WKU now controls their own destiny for the regular season title as they prepare for a Florida road-swing against FAU and FIU this week.