Stephens: Lady Toppers need more than Gooch, Govan

Sophomore forward Chasity Gooch wrestles a rebound away sophomore guard Shanice Cason during their game in Murfreesoboro, Tenn. WKU lost the game 57-79.

Brad Stephens

MURFREESBORO, Tenn. — Chastity Gooch and Alexis Govan did plenty to help WKU beat Middle Tennessee Sunday in the Murphy Center.

Defensively, Gooch held Blue Raider star Ebony Rowe to 6-of-18 shooting. Offensively, she consistently got open under the basket for layups to keep her team in the game.

Gooch finished with 20 points and 14 rebounds, marking her 17th double-double of the season.

Govan did just as well offensively. She made good cuts to the basket, drew fouls and hit jump shots.

Govan finished with 26 points, marking her ninth time this season scoring 20 or more points.

Together the duo accounted for 46 points Sunday, putting the Lady Toppers in position for the road win if they could get production from anyone else. That help never came, and WKU (15-5, 8-3 Sun Belt Conference) lost to 79-57 to MTSU (15-5, 10-1).

“The problem was we had those two show up and we didn’t have anyone else show up,” coach Michelle Clark-Heard said.

Starting guards Chaney Means and Micah Jones combined for zero points on 0-of-9 shooting.

Bianca McGee, who came into Sunday averaging 14.5 points per game, had two points on 1-of-8 shooting.

The next highest scoring total after Gooch and Govan was six points from reserve guard Ileana Johnson.

That lack of offense from role players, coupled with a leaky defense that allowed MTSU’s Icelyn Elie and Kortni Jones to each score more than 20 points, doomed the Lady Toppers.

“We have to get better as a whole,” Heard said. “I’ve been able to rely on certain people, and Bianca showing up every game, and this wasn’t Bianca’s best game.

“To play great teams like coach (Rick) Insell’s team, we need to have everyone show up and play.”

Sunday’s game exposed a flaw in a WKU team that’s long on heart and grit but short on depth.

Kendall Noble’s season-ending knee injury and Danay Fothergill’s transfer left the Lady Toppers with just 10 healthy bodies on their roster.

Three players, Gooch, Govan and McGee, are expected to account for much of the team’s scoring.

Means, Jones, Johnson and the rest are expected to fill in where needed.

With such a thin roster, there are few reinforcements. It’s this group of 10 players or nothing.

There’s no question the roster is talented and has bought into the system of their first-year coach, Heard. It’s no accident WKU has won 75 percent of its games this year and is on pace to more than double the nine wins it recorded in 2011-12.

But it’s also no accident the Blue Raiders beat the Lady Toppers by a sizable margin Saturday when several WKU players had off-games.

There aren’t many 15-5 teams in the nation with a more fragile margin for error than the Lady Toppers.

Injury, foul trouble and no-shows by key contributors are factors WKU must avoid each time it steps on the court.

Right now WKU is still in a good position in the Sun Belt standings.

Though the Lady Toppers are two games behind MTSU in the East Division standings, their 8-3 league mark has them tied with the West Division’s Arkansas State for the second-best record in the Sun Belt.

Achieving their stated goal for a Sun Belt Tournament No. 1 seed will be tough, but as long as they finish in the top five of the league they’ll still receive an important first-round bye.

There’s no reason WKU can’t finish out the year strong enough to obtain one of those coveted byes.

But it’ll need the help of everyone, every night — not just its two stars.