Stephens: Heard’s Lady Toppers hard to ignore

Brad Stephens

There were 1,844 people that had the right idea Saturday.

As typically occurs on Sun Belt Conference Saturdays, WKU’s men’s and women’s basketball teams played a doubleheader, hosting a twin-billing against Arkansas Little-Rock.

Per the usual, the Topper game drew about three times as many people as the Lady Topper game that came before it.

The 5,221 fans that filled Diddle Arena for the men’s game watched the Toppers lose 59-54 to UALR.

It was the WKU men’s fourth loss in five games, and came to a Trojan team that hadn’t won on the road all year.

The announced crowd of 1,844 that showed up for the women’s game enjoyed a friendlier outcome.

That crowd (which included, by my count, two students in the student section at tipoff) saw the Lady Toppers earn another statement win in what’s been a great year for the program.

WKU beat UALR, the two-time defending Sun Belt champ, 70-61. That win ran the Lady Toppers’ overall record to 15-3 — marking the team’s best record at this point of the season since 1994-95.

More importantly, WKU’s women are 8-1 in Sun Belt play, tying them with Middle Tennessee State for first place in the Sun Belt East Division.

If you want a good storyline, then coach Michelle Clark-Heard and her Lady Toppers are the place to look.

Ten months ago today, WKU hired Heard, then a Louisville assistant, to come coach her alma mater.

WKU reached the NCAA Tournament all four years Heard was in a Lady Topper uniform. She was also a part of teams that won Sun Belt Tournament championships in 1988 and 1989.

Heard was brought to Bowling Green to restore that kind of success to a program coming off a 9-21 season in its final year under Mary Taylor Cowles.

The optimists among us thought it would take two or three years for WKU to get back to the top of the league.

So much for that prediction — right now the Lady Toppers may very well be the best team in the Sun Belt.

Sophomores Alexis Govan and Chastity Gooch are third and fourth in the Sun Belt in scoring, averaging 19.9 and 16.6 points per game, respectively. Both players also rank in the Top 15 of the league in steals and rebounding.

JUCO transfer Bianca McGee, who gained eligibility over winter break, is averaging 15.3 points during her nine games.

Freshmen LeAsia Wright, Micah Jones and Jalynn McClain and veteran Chaney Means have also been key players.

All of them seem to enjoy playing for the passionate and energetic Heard.

One year after WKU went 9-21, this new group of Lady Toppers is challenging for a top-seed in this year’s Sun Belt Tournament (March 8-11, Hot Springs, Ark.)

“In the position we’re in, we want to ultimately get that one — not the two-seed — we want to get a one-seed,” Heard said. “We want to be the best.”

Everyone loves a winner, and that’s exactly what Heard has on her hands in her debut season.

If the Lady Toppers keep it up, the folks used to coming to the Saturday doubleheaders early may have some more company in Diddle.