WKU gets sixth straight win on senior night, holding off ULL 80-71

WKU senior guards Chaney Means (left) and Bianca McGee cheer before the start of their final home game as Lady Toppers, an 80-71 victory over the University of Louisiana Lafayette Wednesday, March 5, 2014 at Diddle Arena in Bowling Green, Ky. (Mike Clark/HERALD)

Elliott Pratt

It wasn’t the blow out the Lady Toppers had become accustomed to, but an 80-71 win over Louisiana-Lafayette was still what the doctor ordered on senior night in Diddle Arena.

A Lady Topper win Saturday in the regular season finale at Georgia State would lock up the No. 2 seed for WKU heading into the Sun Belt Conference Tournament in New Orleans, La. next week.

Prior to Wednesday night, WKU (20-8, 12-5 Sun Belt Conference) had won five games by an average margin of 27.2 points per game, but the win in general was all that mattered to the team.

“To put six games in a row – no matter how many points you win by – is a big deal,” coach Michelle Clark Heard said. “We just keep getting better and better.

“I’m glad that we could go out with a win for (senior guard) Chaney (Means) and (senior guard) Bianca (McGee) and for the fans.”

Means, whose is the longest tenured player on the team, clocked in 16 minutes in her final game in Diddle Arena and notched three points against ULL (14-14, 7-10 Sun Belt).

McGee put up 14 points, two rebounds and one steal in 27 minutes in the home finale.

An emotional McGee said after the game the team has grown closer during this six game winning streak.

“It was very special, these girls mean a lot to me,” McGee said. “We’ve gotten so close over the years and to come out and get a win with them and to celebrate this 6-0 run we’ve got going is just amazing.”

Kendall Noble and Chastity Gooch each led WKU with 17 points apiece, with Gooch hauling in 12 rebounds. Noble grabbed four boards and notched five steals.

WKU has now had back-to-back 20 win seasons for the first time since recording six straight 20 win seasons from 2002-08.

“If you had told me when I first took this job that we’d have two seasons with 20 wins back-to-back, I would’ve probably looked at you like you were crazy,” Heard said. “When we got into the first couple of months my first year, I knew this was a special group.

“I’m just proud to have the opportunity to be sitting here in my second year and to get 20 wins back-to-back.”

Up 7-6 just three minutes into the game, the Lady Toppers worked the next seven minutes a 17-2 before shots started falling for ULL. The Ragin’ Cajuns cut the deficit to within six before Noble drew the foul on her way to the basket and converted the three-point play.

WKU’s nine point lead at the half was significantly lower than the team’s 21 point average lead in the past five games.

WKU maintained a 10-15 point lead for much of the second half thanks in part to an 11-2 run early before WKU hit a scoring drought from the field.

From the 14:12 mark to 7:05 left in the half, the Lady Toppers went without hitting a shot from the field. Instead, they made up for it at the free throw line hitting 26-of-33 free throws in the second half (33-for-42 on the game).

ULL was a perfect 10-for-10 from the charity stripe.

Back-to-back three-pointers in the final minutes from the Ragin’ Cajuns started a small comeback. ULL cut the deficit to eight points with 35 seconds left to play.

“We could have focuses a lot more on defense in this game,” Gooch said after the game. “At the end, you could tell we need to practice on that.”

Kia Wilridge scored a layup at the buzzer to give WKU just a single digit win, ending the streak of 20-plus point blowouts.

“We didn’t play as good today, but we’ve been playing real good,” Noble said. “We’ve been playing defense, getting stops and getting baskets in transition. We just have to come everyday and work and get better every single day.”