Lady Toppers earn close win at home, look for win No. 20 this weekend

Sophomore guard Alexis Govan jumps for a rebound during the WKU vs ULM game at Diddle Arena in Bowling Green, Ky. on Wednesday February 20.

Lucas Aulbach

One of the best Lady Topper seasons in recent memory kept rolling with another win this week.

WKU (19-7, 12-5 Sun Belt Conference) survived a late push in Diddle Arena against Louisiana-Monroe to hold on for a 65-63 win Wednesday. With three games left, the Lady Toppers will hit the road this weekend for their final road trip before the upcoming Sun Belt Conference Tournament.

Wednesday’s game had enough excitement for a whole season. After rushing out to a 24-8 lead, thanks in part to the Lady Warhawks starting two-of-18 from the field, WKU had to survive a 41-point second half effort from ULM and a missed heave as time expired to hang on for the win.

Close games are where the Lady Toppers have thrived this year. WKU has gone 6-2 in games decided by six points or less this season, compared to 2-7 in last season’s 9-21 campaign.

Coach Michelle Clark-Heard said finding a way to win close games has been a big focal point for her team this season, and the game against ULM was just an example of that.

“We’re 12-5 in the conference and 19-7, so that’s what you have to look at this time of the year,” Heard said after the game Wednesday. “It’s survive and advance, and every game you have to figure out how to get that ‘W.’”

The Lady Toppers have succeeded this season when sophomore guard Alexis Govan and sophomore forward Chastity Gooch have played well, and Wednesday was no exception.

Govan battled through early foul trouble to finish with a game-high 27 points in an effort that Heard said she was pleased with.

“I’m so proud of Alexis, how she continues to step up and find a way and find her teammates,” Heard said. “I want them to keep having fun and finding a way to win so they can enjoy it.”

Gooch filled up the stat sheet with 14 points, 12 rebounds and four blocks.

While no other WKU player finished with more than six points, Lady Topper role players found a way to contribute in the win. Sophomore guard Ileana Johnson recorded three steals, a game-high for the Lady Toppers and trailing only ULM guard Alexar Tugler, who had eight. Freshman forward Jalynn McClain also posted six points and four rebounds in 12 minutes of play.

Gooch said she believes in her teammates to come through in the clutch for the team.

“I have a lot of confidence in them,” she said. “You have to trust your teammates, and I do.”

With three regular season games remaining before the conference tournament starts, the Lady Toppers have three chances to secure their first 20-win season since 2009-10.

Their first shot will come Saturday at Louisiana-Lafayette. ULL (9-17, 3-14 SBC) has the worst record in the Sun Belt this season but features the league’s top three-point threat in guard Sylvana Okde.

Govan said she hopes the Lady Toppers can return to early-season form for their final road game before the tournament — WKU went 7-0 on the road to start the season.

“We started off strong with road wins, and we want to finish the same way,” Govan said.