Lady Tops to host Albany in Preseason WNIT semis tonight

Senior forward Chastity Gooch goes up for a shot during the first half of WKU’s Nov. 14 game against Central Arkansas. Gooch scored 14 points in the Lady Toppers’ 93-57 victory over the Sugar Bears in the first round of the Preseason Women’s NIT. Brandon Carter/HERALD

Kyle Williams

It’s hard to thoroughly examine a basketball team when it’s just two games into the regular season, but with the Lady Toppers forcing 46 turnovers through 80 minutes of play, it seems like the defense will be the team’s staple this season.

The Lady Toppers (2-0) forced 22 turnovers, 13 of which were steals, in a 93-57 season-opening win against Central Arkansas and 24 at Colorado to overcome a 35.1 percent shooting clip.

The impressive early-season performances have earned the Lady Toppers eight votes in the latest USA Today Women’s Basketball Coaches Poll.

“That win at Colorado was one of the best team wins ever across the board,” Head Coach Michelle Clark-Heard said.

“It’s very, very hard to win at Colorado  — very hard. … At the end of day, we’ve been in situations before with this veteran group, and I think that really paid off for us.”

WKU will now put its defensive prowess to the test Thursday in the semifinals of the Preseason WNIT against Albany at 7 p.m. in Diddle Arena.

Albany (2-0), coming off a 54-53 win over Penn State, returns four starters from a team that appeared in the NCAA Tournament a year ago, including junior forward Shereesha Richards, who tallied 27 points on 10-of-16 shooting and 14 rebounds against Penn State.

Richards will match up with WKU senior forward Chastity Gooch, who leads the Lady Toppers in scoring at 22 points per game to go along with 8.5 rebounds per contest. 

“It’ll be unbelievably competitive,” Heard said. “Chastity is competitive, Richards is competitive, and at the end of the day, we’re playing in the semis of the WNIT. So everybody’s going to be ready to go.”

Albany is led by fifth-year Head Coach Katie Abrahamson-Henderson, who led the team to a 28-5 record last season and NCAA Tournament appearances in each of the past three seasons.

Preseason WNIT success, as history shows, bodes well for semifinalists, as all four have gone on to appear in the NCAA Tournament in 10 of the past 20 seasons. At least three of the semifinalists have made appearances in the big dance in 19 of the past 20 seasons.

With a win, the Lady Toppers would meet the winner of West Virginia at Mississippi State, which will tip off at Thursday at 7 p.m. as well, in the Preseason WNIT Finals on Sunday at 3 p.m.

Tickets to the game are only $5, and the first 100 fans will receive a free hot dog and soft drink courtesy of Heard.

Despite three games in six days, senior guard Alexis Govan said the Lady Toppers aren’t fatigued — they’re hungry.

“We’re not tired, we’re just excited to get to be on the court — we can’t wait to play,” Govan said.