Pratt: WKU basketball teams on opposite ends of the spectrum

Lady Topper head coach Michelle Clark-Heard talks to guard Bianca McGee during the second half of the Lady Toppers 82-59 victory over Georgia State Wednesday, Jan. 8.

Elliott Pratt

(Editors note: Due to Herald deadlines, this column was written before the results of Monday night’s WKU game at Arkansas State. The Toppers lost to the Red Wolves 72-58)

February has brought some of the best and the worst out of basketball on the Hill. Nearing the finish of WKU’s final ride in the Sun Belt Conference, the Topper and Lady Topper basketball teams are in completely opposite predicaments.

In one locker room, you have a team full of guys who continue to shape the identity of the phrase ‘Never Say Never’ into something other than a pitiful Justin Bieber movie (no, I haven’t watched it). It’s a team that has all the pieces it needs – plus some depth – to run through the Sun Belt like it’s shown with a six-game win streak.

In the other locker room, the mood is completely opposite. The Lady Toppers have hit a fork in the road without a win this month and three consecutive games without a win.

Leaving January, both the men’s and women’s teams were riding confident win streaks in the conference, except only one of them has kept its streak alive. The difference is one team has all its pieces complete to the puzzle, but the other is missing one.

There was a stretch there for a while where the Lady Toppers looked fine without junior guard Alexis Govan. The team put together a 6-2 record in the conference before its recent collapse by relying on the insurance of Chastity Gooch and positive development of redshirt freshman guard Kendall Noble. Senior guard Bianca McGee and sophomore guard Micah Jones continue to hold down the perimeter shots.

A lot of players turned their game up a notch when Govan went out, and it paid off. It was impressive to watch, and because of that, it shows that Govan’s absence can no longer be an excuse for the team’s inability to execute.

Even if they aren’t going to make excuses, it’s evident that they need their leader back. Govan is the player the Lady Toppers need back for her unmatchable quickness and ability to get to the basket that gives other defenses fits.

Right now, the Lady Toppers sit at fourth place in the Sun Belt, but only one game separates four different teams from the third-place spot. It works out in favor for WKU, who hosts three of the Sun Belt’s lesser teams for a three-game home stand in Diddle.

There’s no easement and there’s no excuse to come if the Lady Toppers want to get back on track.

For the Toppers, what’s not to enjoy about watching this team? I wrote online a few weeks ago about how the team may have defined its season after a double-overtime win over Arkansas State Jan. 18. Since then, the Toppers put together a six-game win streak in different finishing fashions. 

This team continues to show that when you think it’s out of it, it’s not. They continue to show that the pieces to their puzzle are complete, and that a basketball game lasts 40 minutes, not 39:59. Just when you think that streak is over with 10 minutes to go and down 13 points at Arkansas Little-Rock, junior guard Trency Jackson decides to change your mind with the ball still in his hands with nine-tenths of a second left in the game.

I’ve often questioned this season when the magic will run out for the Toppers, only to find out the team is a step ahead of me and finds different guys to step up each game.

If George Fant doesn’t have a good game, that’s fine; Trency Jackson will take care of that with a career-high 20 points and fourth-place spot on Saturday night’s SportsCenter top 10 countdown.

If Jackson’s game isn’t in full swing like his two-point outing against Texas State, that’s fine too; Fant will ignite the team with dunks on top of 21 points. Want to rewind one game further and add more names to the pot? Junior T.J. Price and freshman Chris Harrison-Docks will show up and shoot the lights out in Diddle Arena against UT-Arlington.

It was just two weeks ago when both teams were hitting their strides in conference play. In that short amount of time, they’ve drifted to opposite ends of the belt, and it’s clear to see which team has all its pieces together and which one doesn’t.

Heading into a three-game home stand, one team will look to avoid complacency and the other will search for any way to get back on track, which may be the perfect outline for both to accomplish what they want.