Spark off the Bench: Role players a bright spot for Lady Toppers early

Guard Bianca McGee (22) drives downcourt as guard April Rivers (3) tries to defend during WKU’s 78-75 victory over Austin Peay Nov. 9, 2013, at E.A. Diddle Arena in Bowling Green, Ky.

Kyle Williams

The Lady Toppers notched their first victory of the season against Austin Peay State on Saturday, but the win didn’t come easy — WKU needed help from its reserves.

The Lady Topper starting five was a combined 1-of-11 from the field in the first 10 minutes and 4-of-18 in the first half. On top of that, junior guard Alexis Govan, who has been named the Sun Belt Conference Preseason Player of the Year, picked up two early fouls and played just four minutes in the entire first half.

Nevertheless, the Lady Topper bench, behind the strong play of senior guard Bianca McGee, held their own throughout the first half. McGee led all scorers at the break with 12 points in 14 minutes and the Lady Toppers trailed APSU by just two despite shooting 26 percent from the field.

McGee said her coaches and teammates needed her to energize the team on both ends of the court in the first half.

“The coaches and some of the players like Alexis and Chastity just told me that they were going to need the spark,” McGee said. “…That’s kind of what I tried to focus on. Just give the spark that they needed.”

She might be coming off the bench, but McGee is an important part of the Lady Topper offense. She averaged 12.5 points per game for WKU after joining the team in December last year.

The Lady Toppers went on to outlast APSU Saturday 78-75 despite a hot start to the second half for the Lady Govs. McGee finished with 21 points in 30 minutes of play while Govan finished with 13 points after a scoreless first half and Gooch recorded 15 points and 15 rebounds, eight of which came in the second half.

Other reserves played important roles as well. Junior guard Chanell Lockhart came off the bench to score five points and pulled in three rebounds, while freshman Bria Gaines and junior guard Jasmine Crawford combined for four points and seven rebounds in their first action for WKU.

Coach Michelle Clark-Heard said she was happy with the Lady Topper bench players, who finished with 30 of the team’s 78 points and 18 total rebounds.

“Our bench showed up,” Heard said. “Bianca McGee was huge when she came off the bench. Everybody that came in, I believe, gave us some crucial minutes…that’s what a team’s all about.”

Govan, who played 22 minutes in the second half after just four in the first, said that the narrow APSU sent the team an early-season message.

“I think it just definitely showed us that we have to come in prepared,” Govan said. “Coach has been pounding into us to come in focused every day for a full practice…I think today we realized that we have to change our mentality.”