Aulbach: Gooch carrying heavy load for Lady Toppers

WKU junior forward Chastity Gooch (30) attempts to get the ball past Texas State center Ashley Ezeh (45) during the game at Diddle Arena on Saturday. WKU lost 63-72.

Lucas Aulbach

Women’s basketball coach Michelle Clark-Heard knows better than anybody that right now, the Lady Toppers are going to live and die on the play of junior forward Chastity Gooch.

“I talk to her and I tell her I take my hat off to her, because I know she’s playing a ton of minutes and she’s doing a great job for us,” Heard said about Gooch after Saturday’s home loss to Texas State.

With junior guard Alexis Govan out indefinitely with a leg injury, Gooch, the reigning Sun Belt Conference Defensive Player of the Year and WKU’s top force in the paint, is being called upon to take on an even bigger role in the Lady Topper offense.

In Thursday’s win over UT-Arlington Gooch was in the game for 35 minutes and picked up 12 points and 12 rebounds, including 10 boards in the second half. Saturday against Texas State she scored 12 points and picked up seven rebounds while playing the full 40 minutes.

Playing big minutes is nothing new to Gooch but in the absence of Govan, the preseason Sun Belt Player of the Year, she’s has taken it to the next level. In the nine games since her teammate last played, Gooch has averaged 34.4 minutes per game.

Her minutes have picked up even more lately — in her last four games, the forward has been on the floor for 39, 38, 35, and 40 minutes. That’s a combined eight minutes on the bench through 160 minutes of play. I get exhausted just reading her numbers.

Gooch, a three-time Sun Belt P,ayer of the Week so far this season. has performed admirably through her recent uptick in playing time. Since Govan was injured, Gooch has led the Lady Toppers in scoring eight times and picked up the most rebounds in seven games. Her averages of 17.7 points and 9.6 rebounds per game led the team in both categories.

While the Lady Toppers are going to have to keep leaning on their all-Sun Belt forward, others will have to step up if the Lady Toppers want to stay hot.

Redshirt freshman guard Kendall Noble has been on a hot streak recently — she had a pair of 19- and 20-point games a week ago in Louisiana and led the team in rebounds twice in the past five games. Sophomore guard Micah Jones, the only Lady Topper other than Gooch to start in all 20 games this season, is the best 3-point shooter on the team, and senior guard Bianca McGee has the ability to make up for some of the production that was lost with Govan.

With nine regular season games to go, WKU is going to need Gooch to continue playing her best basketball for the second-place Lay Toppers to catch Arkansas State for the No. 1 seed in the conference tournament. If her supporting cast can pick up some of her slack, they just might do it.