Noble expands role for Lady Toppers in absence of Govan

UALR guard Taylor Ford draws a charge from WKU freshman guard Kendall Noble during the first half of WKU’s game against the University of Arkansas Little Rock Wednesday, Jan. 15, 2014 at Diddle Arena in Bowling Green, Ky.

Kyle Williams

Despite the absence of junior guard Alexis Govan, the Sun Belt Conference’s Preseason Player of the Year, WKU (13-5, 5-2 Sun Belt) finds itself just one game back of Arkansas State for first place in the league standings.

Govan is second in the scoring column for the Lady Toppers with 16.5 points per game but has been sidelined since Jan. 1 with a stress fracture in her left tibia.

Redshirt freshman guard Kendall Noble said after a win against Georgia State on Jan. 8 that the team is keying in on defense so that in turn will translate into offense, which the Lady Toppers needed without Govan.

“We’re just trying to focus on defense,” Noble said. “We know the shots will start falling and everyone will contribute on the scoring end, so we just focus on defense and we know we can cut into her scoring. We don’t have to score 17 points a game – we don’t have to make that up.”

Noble is a big reason WKU has won five of its last six games and three of four over the Holidays without Govan. In nine games with Govan in the lineup, Noble averaged just 3 points, 2.8 rebounds, 1.2 assists and 0.5 steals in less than 15 minutes per game. The Hazard native is averaging 12.5 points, 5.7 rebounds, 2.8 assists and 2.3 steals in 27.4 minutes per game in 7 games without Govan.

Coach Michelle Clark-Heard said after a loss to Arkansas State on Jan. 18 that a lot has been expected of Noble due to the absence of Govan and she’s risen to the occasion.

“I’m putting Kendall in a lot of different positions,” Heard said. “I’m playing her at the point, she’s playing on the wing, she plays post, so I’m putting her in a lot of different situations and I tell you what – she’s growing up each and every day.”

Noble’s playing time has increased substantially, but her consistency hasn’t budged. She’s owns a league-best 2.0 assist/turnover ratio with 24 assists to just 12 turnovers during conference play. Noble also ranks sixth in assists per game (3.4) and seventh in steals per game (1.9) in league play.

Noble’s steady play has been a pleasant surprise for WKU while the play of junior forward Chasity Gooch remains a solid staple.

Gooch leads the Sun Belt in both field goal percentage (.586) and blocks per game (2.0) while ranking second in points per game (23) and rebounds per game (8.7).

Gooch became the 35th Lady Topper to reach 1,000 career points in the first half of a 77-73 win over Louisiana-Monroe on Jan. 22, joining Govan, who reached the plateau on Dec. 7. Gooch finished with a career-high 31 points.

Gooch said after the Georgia State win that although the injury to Govan hurts the Lady Toppers, it gives other players a chance to improve.

“We’re ready for her to come back,” Gooch said. “But it’s also making our team better at the same time because other people are stepping up.”

WKU moves on to host UT-Arlington on Wednesday at 7:00 p.m. CT. The Mavericks own the conference’s worst scoring margin (-10.2) while the Lady Toppers lead the Sun Belt with a margin of 9.3.