WKU advances to Preseason WNIT Championship with 63-54 win over Albany

Freshman guard Tashia Brown (10) and sophomore center Bria Gaines (11) battle Central Arkansas guard Brianna Mulltins (10) for a rebound during the Lady Toppers’ Nov. 14 game against the Sugar Bears. WKU defeated UCA 93-57 to advance in the Preseason Women’s NIT. Nick Wagner/HERALD

Kyle Williams

After forcing 46 turnovers through their first two games, the Lady Toppers flexed their defensive muscles again on Thursday with 33 forced turnovers in WKU’s 63-54 win over Albany in the semifinals of the Preseason WNIT in Diddle Arena.

WKU (3-0) will travel to Mississippi State for a Preseason WNIT Championship matchup on Sunday at 2 p.m.

Senior forward Chastity Gooch and redshirt sophomore guard Kendall Noble led the way for the Lady Toppers with 14 points apiece. Noble also tallied 10 rebounds, six steals and four assists. Senior guard/forward Alexis Govan and freshman guard Tashia Brown added 13 and 11 points, respectively.

Junior forward Shereesha Richards totaled 21 points and eight rebounds for the Great Danes. Albany was 0-for-4 from three-point land and just 50 percent from the free throw stripe.

Both WKU and Albany entered Thursday’s matchup having received votes in the USA Today Coaches Poll. The Lady Toppers have now won 13 of their past 14 games dating back to last season.

“I’m just so proud to sit here as a coach,” Head Coach Michelle Clark-Heard said. “Those girls, they just kept fighting and kept digging. …The chemistry is just really, really good on this team. They really are truly sisters that are really working to be the best that they can be.”

WKU forced 16 first-half turnovers en route to heading into the locker room with a 32-31 halftime lead. Both teams combined for 28 turnovers and 28 field goals through 20 minutes.

“I thought we were pretty active on defense,” Noble said. “Their ball handlers, I think, were struggling a little bit with the pressure. …We had a lot of turnovers, but good thing we forced more.”

The Lady Toppers found themselves trailing by a point with under 10 minutes remaining but an offensive and defensive surge from Govan and Noble had WKU up 56-51 with 3:59 remaining.

A layup from junior forward Jalynn McClain with 1:09 remaining gave the Lady Toppers a healthy lead en route to the 63-54 win.

WKU will travel to Starkville, Miss., to face Mississippi State in the championship game of the 2014 Preseason WNIT on Sunday at 2:00 p.m. The game will air live nationally on CBS Sports Network.