Sun Belt Tournament looms for Heard’s Lady Toppers

Tyler Lashbrook

The regular season is over and the Lady Toppers, with one of the biggest turnarounds in conference history, are now preparing for the Sun Belt Conference Tournament.

WKU (20-9, 13-7 SBC) earned the No. 3 seed, a first round bye and will face either No. 6 seed North Texas or No. 11 Louisiana-Lafayette Saturday afternoon at the Convention Center Court in Hot Springs, Ark.

The Lady Toppers swept both UNT and ULL in the regular season. If they defeat either team in the second round, they will play Sunday afternoon.

The other teams on WKU’s side of the bracket is No. 7 South Alabama, No. 10 Troy and No. 2 UALR, who earned the second seed despite losing to the Lady Toppers twice this year.

The Lady Toppers lost their last two regular season games at home but are putting that behind them and will be preparing this week for the tournament.

Coach Michelle Clark-Heard said the Lady Toppers have things to improve on before traveling to Arkansas.

“We’ve got to take care of the basketball, we’ve got to correct some defensive things,” Heard said. “We need more help-side defense and things like that.

“But I think the biggest thing is our kids are hungry. I think their passion is ready to take three games and one game at time to go win a championship.”

On the other side of the bracket is Middle Tennessee State, who locked up the No. 1 seed with a victory over WKU in the regular season finale.

MTSU head coach Rick Insell said after that game anything can happen come tournament time.

“We’re seeded first but let’s just face facts, we got beat by Troy three weeks ago and they’re the last place team in our conference,” Insell said. “Florida-International beat us, Little-Rock beat us… It’s going to be a heck of a tournament.”

The Lady Toppers have won nine conference tournament titles and have appeared in the NCAA tournament 16 times.

For WKU, the end of the regular season marked one of the largest season-to-season turnarounds in conference history.

The Lady Toppers lost 20 games last year – this year, Heard’s first as coach, they won 20.

Sophomore guard Alexis Govan has been a pivotal piece in WKU’s turnaround. As a freshman, she averaged 6.6 points and 2.9 rebounds per game on 37.8 percent shooting.

This year she’s upped those averages to 20 points and 5.9 rebounds per game on 46.9 percent shooting from the floor.

Govan said that she hopes fans remember the energy the team brought every game this season.

“I hope they see that our motto ‘On the Rise’ is true,” Govan said. “We’re working every day and we just want to get back to where this program was.”