Lady Toppers head to Florida for road swing

Guard Chaney Means (#2) attempts to run past Arkansas Sate guard Quinisha McDowell (#13) during their game Saturday.

Tyler Lashbrook

Two conference road wins down south could be just what the Lady Toppers need as the conference season winds down. They’ll try to accomplish that goal this week.

WKU (17-6, 10-4 SBC) will face Florida Atlantic (11-12, 8-7 SBC) Wednesday, then travel an hour south to take on Florida International (15-9, 9-6 SBC) on Saturday.

The team has beaten both teams so far this season at Diddle Arena — FAU fell 86-68 on Jan. 12 and WKU topped FIU 62-56 on Nov. 19.

The Lady Toppers lost to Arkansas State their last time out and will use this week’s road trip as a way to get back to winning.

Coach Michelle Clark-Heard says that this week’s Florida trip is an important road swing for the Lady Toppers.

“I think all the rest of these games is all about us working on the things we need to, to get ready for conference,” Heard said.

Heard was referring to the Sun Belt Conference Tournament that is beginning to loom on the Lady Toppers’ schedule.

The tournament begins March 8 and the Lady Toppers have just six more games as they prepare to make a run.

WKU has proven to be a gritty group on the road this year — they are 8-3 on opponent’s home floors this season — and Heard expects that trend to continue.

“What I’ve found out about this group is that we’ve been very resilient on the road, and we’ve figured out how to maintain and do the things we need to, to be successful,” Heard said. “And we’ll go about this the same way.”

Last year, WKU was just 1-13 on the road.

The eight wins so far on the road marks just the 14th time in school history the team has won eight games or more on the road in a single season.

FAU presents a challenge to the Lady Toppers’ ability to guard the perimeter. WKU is giving up 4.7 three-pointers a game, while FAU averages six a game.

For the Lady Toppers, stopping dribble penetration is their No. 1 way to cut down on Florida Atlantic’s three-point shooting.

Once a player dribbles past her defender and attacks the paint, the defense is forced to sag in and help under the basket.

When that happens, shooters in the corner are left open for three-point shots — stopping that from happening is coach Heard’s main concern.

“We’re going to have to guard individuals and make sure that we know where everybody is on the floor at all times,” Heard said. “So we won’t get caught up in sinking in on defense and leaving shooters wide open on the perimeter.”

FIU presents a different challenge for the Lady Toppers and that challenge’s name is Jerica Coley.

Coley leads the nation in scoring at 25.5 points per game. She’s a 5-foot-8-inch guard  with a versatile offensive game, and the ability to get to the basket or shoot from beyond the three-point arc.

Heard says that the Lady Toppers will need to rotate different people on her and try to limit her touches as much as possible.