Basketball notebook: Lady Toppers move on to Sun Belt semifinals

WKU’s junior forward Chastity Gooch (30) shoots over ULL’s guard Sylvana Okde (25) during the first half of WKU’s game against the University of Louisiana Lafayette in the first round of the Sun Belt Tournament Wednesday, March 12, 2014, at Lakefront Arena in New Orleans, La. (Jeff Brown/HERALD)

NEW ORLEANS  — Despite lowly shooting to begin the game, the Lady Toppers escaped Lakefront Arena with a 67-61 victory over Louisiana-Lafayette on Wednesday night to advance to the semifinals of the Sun Belt Conference Tournament.

WKU (22-8) will move on to play the winner of Wednesday’s matchup between Troy and Arkansas Little-Rock on Friday at 2:30 p.m.

Gooch the difference for WKU late

The Lady Toppers were able to escape thanks to a strong second-half performance from junior forward Chastity Gooch. Gooch tallied 21 points, 14 rebounds, three assists, two blocks and two steals. She totaled 15 points and seven rebounds in the second half alone.

Gooch converted six of her nine field goal attempts in the second half after missing six of her nine attempts in the first 20 minutes.

“My team just kept feeding me the ball,” Gooch said. “Coach told me, in the first half, I was kind of rushing my shot, so she told me to slow down and gather myself. That’s what I did in the second half.”

Wednesday night a team win, Heard says

All nine Lady Toppers scored against ULL, including junior guard Chanell Lockhart, freshman forward Bria Gaines and redshirt freshman guard Kendall Noble, who combined for 36 of the 67 Lady Topper points.

Gooch was a vital part of the comeback victory, but coach Heard said the win was a total team effort.

“She’s put this team on her back,” Heard said. “And that’s what she does. She just played so hard and her teammates have a ton of confidence in her. Chastity had 21 and 14, but I’m going to tell you something  — this was a huge team win. We had a lot of people step up.”

Okde lights up WKU defense

The Lady Toppers escaped with a big first round win Wednesday night. But their season was almost cut short by ULL guard Sylvana Okde.

Okde, who averaged 10.9 points per game coming into Wednesday night, had 21 points against WKU, with seven three-pointers. Five of those came in the first half, where she led all scorers with 15 points.

Heard said the Lady Toppers had to adjust on defense in the second half to stop the sharp-shooter.

“She was shooting them from 22, 24 feet,” Heard said about Okde. “She’s an unbelievable player and we know that. That’s what we talked to them about, to make sure that we could try to get our hands up and that’s why we did the switching on the defense and tried to change up, to keep them on their toes.”

Lady Toppers have had success against second round opponents

No matter who they end up playing Friday, Lady Topper fans can be comfortable with the fact that WKU has had strong outings against both of their potential opponents.

WKU’s semifinal opponent will be the winner of Wednesday night’s game between Troy and Arkansas-Little Rock.

The Lady Toppers have played both of these teams twice this season, with good results. WKU is 3-1 in those four games.

UALR was the last team to beat WKU. The Lady Toppers fell to the defending Sun Belt champs 58-51 in Little Rock on Feb. 8.

The semifinal game will be played at 2:30 p.m. on Friday.