Heard’s Lady Toppers ahead of schedule

Junior guard Chaney Means runs past Vanderbilt guard Kady Schrann during the second half of WKU’s loss to Vanderbilt on Dec. 4, 2012 in Diddle Arena.

Elliott Pratt

It hasn’t taken long for WKU to start winning under first-coach Michelle Clark-Heard.

WKU stands at 3-0 in the Sun Belt Conference after being picked to finish near the bottom of the league in the preseason polls. Sophomores Chastity Gooch, a forward, and Alexis Govan, a guard, have flourished in Heard’s system.

Going into the team’s game against Morehead State Thursday, Govan led the team with nearly 20 points per game. She also ranked 30th in the nation in free throws, shooting 91 percent.

Before Tuesday night’s 77-67 home loss against Vanderbilt, Gooch was one of three players in the nation to score double-doubles in every game in the season.

Heard said the pair’s will to improve is “incredible” to her.

“Alexis watches when she turns the ball over,” Heard said. “Chastity watches with me so I can show how she can help this team defensively. They’ve committed to what we want to do here, and I’m happy they’ve had success early.”

WKU has also done well in both forcing and avoiding turnovers.

Going into Thursday, the Lady Toppers have been better than their opponents in the turnover margin by five per game. They forced 22 against the Commodores Tuesday night.

Govan said afterward that the Lady Toppers plan to use that advantage through out the year.

“We’re a defensive team,” Govan said. “We said at the beginning of the year we were going to get into people and guard. That’s what we do every night.”

One issue still hurting the Lady Toppers is an inability to close out tough home games. WKU has lost twice this year at E. A. Diddle Arena, falling to Illinois State and Vanderbilt.

In both games, the opposing teams have put up impressive numbers offensively in the second half.  Any time WKU responded, both opponents answered with scores themselves to sustain comfortable leads.

Freshman point guard Micah Jones said after the Vanderbilt loss that not getting over the hump in the second half was “heartbreaking.”

“You can’t get down, because we played hard and got those stops,” Jones said. “We made some short runs, and then they’d come down and hit a dagger, which was kind of heartbreaking. We never could get it back where we wanted it.”

Heard understands that a team this young must go through growing pains but said she’s astonished by the progress already made.

“The growth every day never ceases to amaze me,” Heard said. “The kids have a will to fight and continue to fight. We’re not perfect. We turn it over. We do everything, and those are things we’re going to have to keep working on — taking care of the ball, being able to guard, understand situations like time and score.

“But I’ll take all of that with the effort they’re giving this coaching staff.”