Lady Toppers eliminated from Sun Belt Conference Tournament following 20-point loss

Sophomore guard Alexis Govan reacts after losing a ball out of bounds during WKU’s Sun Belt Conference Tournament semifinal loss to University of Arkansas Little Rock.

Austin Lanter

After a dramatic four-point win over ULL in Saturday’s quarterfinal game, the Lady Toppers lost by 20 points to Arkansas-Little Rock in the semifinals of the Sun Belt Conference Tournament by a score of 74-54.

The Lady Trojans entered the semifinal game riding a 12 game-winning streak. In fact, the last time UALR lost, it was Jan. 19 to the Lady Toppers. WKU (21-10, 13-7 SBC) beat UALR the first time the two teams met earlier this season as well.

“They had a chip on their shoulder,” sophomore guard Alexis Govan said. “We beat them twice in the regular season and they came out here with something to prove. That was the difference tonight.”

UALR went on an 8-0 run early to take a 12-7 lead into the first media timeout with 15:08 left. In the first five minutes of play, WKU turned the ball over five times, which directly led to six points for the Lady Toppers.

The Lady Trojans also started the game shooting 6-of-9 in the first five minutes of play while WKU was settling for 3-point shots. Four of the first seven shots the Lady Toppers took were 3-point attempts, with only one finding the bottom of the net.

The scoring run would continue for UALR after the first media timeout as well. In all, the Lady Trojans went on a 24-4 run in the middle of the first half to build a 17-point lead on WKU, the largest of the half.

“We weren’t boxing out on the defensive boards,” Govan said. “We gave them a lot of second-chance points and that’s really where they killed us in the first half.”

Sophomore guard Kiera Clark got off to a hot start for UALR, going 4-for-5 from the field and recording nine first-half points.

The Lady Trojans were led by sophomore guard Taylor Gault in the first half, who tallied 11 points. Junior guard Taylor Ford also chipped in nine first-half points.

WKU was able to pick it up on defense later in the first half, holding the Lady Trojans to just two points, both free throws, in a seven-minute span.

The Lady Toppers were able to cut the lead down to nine points with around three minutes left before UALR scored four quick points to stretch the lead back to 13.

“I think the biggest thing when you look at the stat sheet is they were shooting 60 percent at one time,” coach Michelle Clark-Heard said. “Anytime someone shoots 60 percent, you’re going to struggle…They were feeling it. When they started hitting their shots, they started making them. It seemed like everything was going in.”

WKU was led by Govan, who scored 11 in the first half. One of those 11 points was Govan’s 600th point of the season, making her the 21st player in WKU basketball history to reach the mark.

At halftime, WKU found itself down by 12 to the defending back-to-back  Sun Belt Tournament champions.

The Lady Trojans picked up right where they left off in the second half, scoring 15 straight points to blow the game open and double the WKU count, eventually taking a 52-25 lead.

“We still kept that intensity,” Gault said. “I don’t think we were as intense as we were in the first part of the game. We just came out and we wanted to win. Just payback. We felt like we owed it to them.”

UALR put it on cruise control for the second half, never letting WKU cut its lead to less than 20 points after the 15-0 run to start the half. The Lady Toppers found themselves down by as many as 28 in the second half.

Heard said she was proud of the way her team competed, despite the outcome.

“One thing I can say about this team is we never gave up,” Heard said, “That’s one that we don’t do as long as we’re in it. As long as we’re in a game we are going to compete.”

The Lady Trojans had four players in double figures, including Ford, Clark, and Gault.

Junior guard Bianca McGee led the Lady Toppers in scoring Saturday against ULL, tallying 20 points on the day, including eight straight free throws at the end of the game to help secure the win. She was held scoreless Sunday.

Govan was the one bright spot for the Lady Toppers Sunday. In 37 minutes, Govan recorded 29 points, including three 3-pointers on six attempts.

For the game, UALR shot 47.5 percent from the field to WKU’s 35.2 percent.

Turnovers and assists were a big statistic for both teams, too. WKU turned the ball over 19 times which led to 27 of UALR’s points and only recorded five assists on the day. UALR, on the other hand, only turned the ball over six times and had 20 assists.

Heard said it hurts to see WKU’s season end in a loss.

“I hate that our season had to end like this, for them, for this team,” Heard said. “This has been an incredible year for our young team and a team of players that never gave up and never quit. That’s what I’m so proud of. We didn’t perform how we wanted to today but we kept fighting.”