Guards keying late-season WKU surge

Freshman guard Alexis Govan drives to the paint during WKU’s game against Florida Atlantic at Diddle Arena on Wednesday.

Brad Stephens

A pleased look came across Mary Taylor Cowles’ face on Wednesday night as she looked at her guards’ stats on the postgame box score.

The Lady Toppers’ head coach had just seen her backcourt lead WKU to a 71-60 win in Diddle Arena over Sun Belt Conference East Division rival Florida Atlantic.

Freshman Alexis Govan racked up a game-high five assists to go with six points.

Sophomore Chaney Means had six points, four assists and a game-high four steals.

Sophomore Ellen Sholtes, making her sixth career start, had nine points, three assists and a pair of steals.

Senior Vanessa Obafemi added a game-high 18 points, nine of which came on three 3-point baskets in the game’s first two minutes.

“They just continue to play very, very well together,” Cowles said. “I think along with our coaching staff, we’re just more and more comfortable with the rotation we’ve got going.”

Of those four players, only Obafemi has held the same role for the majority of the year.

It’s taken longer for Cowles to find set roles for Means, Govan and Sholtes.

But it seems she’s finally settled on a guard rotation that includes Govan and Sholtes starting alongside Obafemi in the backcourt, with Means coming off the bench.

Improved play from all those guards has helped key a modest two-game win streak for WKU (8-17, 5-8 Sun Belt).

It’s also been a reversal from earlier in the season, when much of the Lady Toppers’ offensive production came from senior forwards LaTeira Owens and Keshia Mosley.

“Us guards, we’ve really stepped up,” Obafemi said. “Ellen’s been good and confident handling the ball. (Freshman guard) Danay (Fothergill) had a really big game the last game, as well as Chaney. The guards have stepped up with the post.”

Sholtes and Means have thrived recently in new roles.

Sholtes saw little time for much of the season and then was thrust into the starting point guard role Jan. 25 for WKU’s first matchup with FAU.

The former Louisville Mercy Academy standout has been running the Lady Topper offense ever since.

“We were just at a point where we needed to figure something out,” Cowles said of her decision to put Sholtes at the point. “What Ellen Sholtes is, is extremely basketball-savvy.

“She understands the game of basketball… She brings a lot of knowledge to the game, and given the opportunity, she’s really grabbed a hold of this.”

While Sholtes’ impact has been seen at the offensive end, Means has found a defensive niche at the top of WKU’s “mad dog” full-court press, pressuring the other team’s guards in the backcourt.

Her efforts have resulted in 11 steals in the Lady Toppers’ last four outings.

“I guess that just kind of came about — I don’t know how I got put up there to begin with because I’ve never played that position ever,” Means said of her role in the mad dog. “I really enjoy it. It just gives me a chance to have a lot of energy.”

The Lady Toppers have just three regular season games left, starting with a rematch against South Alabama at 5 p.m. on Saturday in Mobile, Ala.

The Lady Jaguars dealt WKU a 56-52 defeat on Feb. 4 in Diddle.

“We’ve got to continue to get better, and we’ve got to continue to improve,” Cowles said. “But I like the fact we’re headed in the right direction.”