Aulbach: Basketball teams come back with new edge

WKU junior forward George Fant goes up for a shot while the Toppers trail by one point with ten seconds left in overtime during WKU’s 83-87 loss against the University of Arkansas Little Rock Thursday, Jan. 16, 2014 at Diddle Arena in Bowling Green, Ky.

Lucas Aulbach

The biggest news of the break was a change at the top of the WKU football team, but changes to the men’s and women’s basketball team lineups that took place while school was out could be the most important story this semester.

The stagnant Toppers saw their offense show some life with the additions of transfer guards Trency Jackson and Chris Harrison-Docks, while several Lady Topper reserves and role players took on the challenge of replacing an injured star. WKU fans who haven’t seen either team take the court since last semester might be a bit confused during the next game they attend.

The defense has never been in question but since joining the Toppers at the start of the break, hot-shooting Harrison-Docks and Jackson, the best athlete on the team, have reshaped a Topper offense that sat near the bottom of the Sun Belt Conference in several statistical categories. Jackson has brought strong defense and electric energy to the court while CHD, already with a game-winning shot at South Alabama to his name, is one of the best shooters on the team from any range.

Together they average a combined 20.3 points per game and have taken a lot of pressure off of junior guard T.J. Price and junior forward George Fant, who were previously WKU’s only consistent offensive threats.

These changes have helped WKU (13-7, 5-2 SBC) jump its average of 56.6 points per game from before the start of the break to 72 points per game since, while maintaining the best scoring defense in the conference. If the Toppers can keep up this pace — they’ve gone 8-4 since the break — they’ll prove to other teams that they deserved to be the Sun Belt’s preseason favorite.

While the Toppers have looked strong over the break, the play of the Lady Toppers (13-5, 5-2 SBC) has been even more impressive considering they hit their stride without preseason Sun Belt Player of the Year Alexis Govan.

Govan, WKU’s star junior guard, hasn’t played since December, when she was sidelined with a stress fracture in her left tibia. She’s expected to join the team again sometime in the next few weeks but her average stat line — 16.5 points, 4.6 rebounds, 3.6 assists and 2.5 steals per game so far this year — is tough to duplicate.

The Lady Toppers have been able to go 8-2 since Govan’s injury, though, thanks to junior forward Chastity Gooch and several role players shouldering a heavier load.

Gooch, a junior forward and All-American candidate, has always been an important piece for the Lady Toppers but she’s become an even bigger presence in the post, averaging 23 points and 9.5 rebounds per game since Govan last took the court on Dec. 21.

She hasn’t been the only bright spot for WKU, though. Freshman guard Kendall Noble, who redshirted last season after tearing her ACL early in the year, has become one of the top offensive threats in the Sun Belt since being given more playing time. In seven games without Govan, Noble has averaged 11.9 points, including 19 in each of her last two games. The Lady Toppers went 8-2 over the break — five of those wins came without Govan.

The two WKU squads might look a little different, but both are capable of putting on a show and running with the best teams in the Sun Belt. Successful stretches over the break have set the table for an exciting end to the 2013-14 season.