Lady Toppers push past sluggish starts, register two road wins

Head Coach Michelle Clark-Heard converses with Tashia Brown during a timeout in the Lady Topper’s game against the University of Louisville at the Yum! Center, November 25, 2014. Justin Gilliland/HERALD

Jonah Phillips

This weekend, the Lady Toppers would use big pushes at the end of the first half in both of their games to spur them to victory.  

The Lady Toppers found themselves in an uncharacteristic deficit for the vast majority of the first half, against both North Texas and Rice, but claimed the lead in the closing minutes, picking up two more road-conference wins.  

After Rice led for 31:40 of the 40 minutes, the Lady Toppers went on a 31-10 run, after trailing by 13 points to beat Rice 83-76, in Houston.

“I’m proud of the kids,” Head Coach Michelle Clark-Heard said. “Just our fight — we continue to find ways. We talked about going out and getting some stops, and we did, but they shot 57 percent from the field.  It seemed like everything they were shooting was going in.”

Though not in such a dramatic fashion, WKU won 77-49 against North Texas, after trailing in the first half until the final 2:41. 

“At halftime, I just talked to them about being confident — we have always been a confident basketball team,” Clark-Heard said after the North Texas game. “Sometimes it is going to fall and sometimes it doesn’t, but what are we going to do when it doesn’t? We have to guard, and we have to rebound.”

Against Rice, the Lady Toppers forced eight turnovers in the last 4:59 of the first half, to go on a 19-2 run and lead 40-35 at the break.

“Something that I am really proud of — it this was the best offensive rebounding team in the conference,” Clark-Heard said.  “We held them to five offensive rebounds and out-rebounded them, and that is something that I am really proud of, because we had been talking about that all day yesterday and all day today in shoot-around.” 

WKU would let the lead slip again, after shooting 3-14 to start the half. They found themselves trailing 42-45 with 15:52 to play at the first media timeout. 

Rice held their largest lead of the game with 11:05 to play in the second half, holding a 13-point lead at 50-63. Though, after this point WKU would finish the half on a 31-10 run, taking their largest lead of the game at seven points, with just 53 seconds remaining in the game.

In the first half, the Lady Toppers did not claim the lead until the 1:40 mark, and in the second half, after giving up the lead at the 16:42 mark, they would not reclaim it until there was 2:18 left in the game.

“Our seniors stepped up — Ileana, Alexis and Chastity — in big moments, and everybody made big free throws,” Clark-Heard said. “It was just a great team win, and I am just really glad we got to come out (to Texas) and grab two wins.”

The Lady Toppers struggled behind the arc in the contest, shooting just 2-15.  They would make up the difference down low, scoring 50 points in the paint. WKU was able to sustain first and second half comebacks, after scoring 33 points off of 27 Rice turnovers.

The Lady Toppers return home next week, taking a break on Thursday before taking on Marshall, on Saturday, Feb. 14 at 1 p.m. CT in Diddle Arena.