Season wrap-up with WKU Lady Tops coach Michelle Clark-Heard

I sat down today with WKU women’s basketball coach Michelle Clark-Heard to talk for the first time since the Lady Tops fell to Baylor in the first round of the NCAA tournament last month.

Heard just got back a few days ago from the Final Four in Nashville, and the team began spring workouts Wednesday. We hit on a number of topics about the direction of the program, and Heard’s comments are available below:


Reaction from people to WKU at Final Four: “I was actually pretty overwhelmed with the great responses. I think a lot of people watched not only the tournament championship game, but they watched the Baylor game. We were able to represent not only our conference, but just mid-major schools in general.”

What’s next step for WKU? “To keep climbing. To put us in a position to be a top-25 program. That’s what I’ve talked about from day one. That’s what we talk about as a staff and as a team, and also to go into Conference USA and embark on something new – a big challenge for us. I think competing at the top tier of that conference is our next step. Then the next step is to be able to get an at-large bid in the NCAA, even if something happens where we don’t win the tournament. Getting in the tournament and winning – not just getting to the first round. That’s where we have to go to now.”

Competition in Conference USA: “It’s going to be, day in and day out, a battle. I’m excited about our journey into Conference USA. I think it fits how we finished off in the Sun Belt. There are unbelievable coaches in that league and a lot of talent, so we’ll have to be mentally prepared. … Our team is excited about that journey. It’s an athletic conference – way more athletic than what we just faced. We’ll have to keep getting better.”

What would you say to people who expect you to eventually move on? “Again, at the first press conference, I said this is my dream job. That has not changed. I want to be here as long as Dr. Ransdell and Todd (Stewart) and everyone wants be to be here. This is a special place for me. No one can imagine how great it can feel to drive up every single day and walk into a place where you know you’ve had something to do with the success, not only as a player but as a coach. That’s important to me. My family loves it here. I’m not far from home. We talked about the benchmarks and where we’re trying to go. I want to be a part of that. I want to help us win a game in the NCAA and see the kids keep progressing. A lot of people look at things differently. When you’re a coach and you’ve done it for a long time, you have to evaluate where you’re at as a person and your family and everything else that comes with the territory.”

Having lineup options next year: “I think that’s what will help us be successful moving into Conference USA and going to the next level. You’ve got to have a bench and have multiple kids at different positions. … I’m excited about being in that position. You can have different rotations at different times – adjusting to the talent and teams we play so we can make sure the matchups are the way we need to. I get excited.”

Govan returning to court Wednesday: “Some baby steps. She did some shooting things and halfcourt stuff. She’s going to have to progress, but she’s released, and she’ll just have to work her way back into full contact. It’s exciting to have her back.”

Recruiting update: “You can draw up plays and do all these things you want to do, but it’s about players. It’s about developing them, but it’s also about getting them. That’s what we’re trying to do. It’s been awesome, because we’ve had a lot of attention from some really good players who are starting to show more interest. It’s good to receive a phone call from a kid or coach who wants to transfer in.”

Update on schedule, which will include road game at Louisville and home game vs. Ole Miss: “We’re trying to finish up. It’s a headache, because I’m telling you now, no one wants to play us. It’s a good problem to have, but not a good problem for me. We have to look at things like RPI and strength of schedule. People have recognized what we’ve done here the last couple of years, so we’re still working on trying to get that finished.”

By the numbers: WKU women’s last year in Sun Belt, future in C-USA

Now that the Western Kentucky women’s basketball team’s season and membership in the Sun Belt Conference are over, I thought I’d take a look back at their opponents this year and what to expect from Conference USA next season.

The Lady Toppers (24-9) faced 21 different opponents in the 2013-14 season. All of these figures are based on the NCAA’s latest RPI rating update March 17.

Average RPI of 2013-14 opponents: 204

WKU’s final RPI rating: 107

Average RPI of nonconference opponents, including Baylor in NCAA tourney: 178

Best RPI nonconference win: Northern Kentucky (153)

Worst RPI nonconference loss: Ball State (132)

Average RPI of Sun Belt Conference opponents: 240

Best RPI conference win: Arkansas State (114), in Sun Belt tournament final

Worst RPI conference loss: South Alabama (316)

Top-1oo RPI teams faced: Three, all losses — Baylor (7), Louisville (8), Vanderbilt (43)

Overall win-loss record of opponents: 311-330

Win-loss record of nonconference foes: 194-174

Win-loss record of conference foes (does not include WKU): 117-156

Top-100 RPI teams in Sun Belt Conference: Zero

Top-150 RPI teams in Sun Belt Conference: Three (WKU at 107, Arkansas State at 114, UALR at 139)

Sun Belt teams in the postseason: Two (WKU to NCAA tournament, Arkansas State to WNIT)

Postseason wins by Sun Belt teams: Zero



Average RPI of Conference USA teams: 146

Overall record of C-USA teams: 274-220

Conference USA teams in postseason: Seven (MTSU in NCAA tournament, six in WNIT)

Postseason wins by C-USA teams: Four, so far (all in Women’s NIT)

Top-100 RPI teams in Conference USA: Four (MTSU at 17, So. Miss at 30, UTEP AT 59, East Carolina at 94)

Top-150 RPI teams in Conference USA: Eight (MTSU, So. Miss, UTEP, E. Carolina, Tulane, Charlotte, Old Dominion, UAB)

Baylor says Western Kentucky better than 15 seed as Lady Bears win 87-74 on their home court

Haven’t had a chance to fully go back through Baylor’s postgame comments myself yet, but here is some of what they had to say, as provided by the NCAA:


Baylor Associate Head Coach Bill Brock

Opening Statement:

“I want to commend Western Kentucky on a great performance. They had a great year. They had won 10 in a row coming in here and I thought they played outstanding tonight. I thought that was one of the better shooting performances that anyone has come in here as an opponent and done on our floor. That was just a great shooting performance by their team. They never did quit. We made some very timely runs there. I thought our team should be commended for the way about the last three and a half minutes of the game went, for the way they controlled the clock. We really did a great job of knowing time and score and they should be commended for that. I just really appreciate their efforts tonight. We’re just looking forward now to having a chance to play on Monday night against Cal.”

On standing ovation and crowd support during the game:

“When I walked out there and the fans started standing and clapping, that made me relax a little bit, I have to be honest with you. I think that’s a big advantage of playing at home and I think tonight that our fans reacted like they are—they are educated basketball fans—and every time we needed their support they were on their feet and clapping. I just thought Western Kentucky made several runs at us and it’s sort of like the old analogy in football where you bend and bend and you don’t ever break and I thought we were bending a little bit tonight. They would keep coming at us and pushing at us and attacking us but we never did break and we always had the answer. I thought our fans were fantastic tonight and I think they will be here in even more numbers on Monday. I hope what they’re doing is coming to this game right now, making plans to getting up tomorrow and driving to San Antonio and getting our men to the Sweet 16 then getting back up here on Monday night and cheering us on so we have a chance to get to the Sweet 16.”

On Odyssey Sims’ and Nina Davis’ performances compared to the other players:

“I think everyone had plenty of opportunities to score, I just think we uncharacteristically missed a few shots tonight that we normally do hit from the perimeter. I really wasn’t caught up, I wasn’t looking at a board, I had no idea that Nina and Odyssey both had 30 ever. I just knew this: if you get Odyssey Sims in a one-on-one situation with the ball in her hands good things have a chance to happen. She did that in the middle of the floor two or three times. “

On facing Cal:

“Cal is super athletic at every spot on the floor. It’s going to be a pretty good matchup with their point guard and our point guard. You better rebound the basketball if you want to stay in the game with Cal because they just dominated the boards against Fordham. I think you’re going to a lot of resemblance in them and us. They play eight players; we play nine players. I think it’s going to be a very, very good basketball game but one thing we’ve got to improve on is we’ve got to play better post defense on Monday night. If we don’t then (Reshanda) Gray from California is going to have a field day.”

Baylor Senior Guard Odyssey Sims

On first round opponent Western Kentucky:

“Coach Mulkey told us that they were better than a 15-seed and they were. Give credit to them, their defense was good. They kept making runs when we were trying to pull away. Number 30 she kept attacking and trying to find ways to get buckets. Give credit to them they are a very good team and they had a very good year.”

On the benefits of playing a tight first round game:

“I think that we will learn from it. I think there was a lot of things that we didn’t do well down the stretch when they made runs. We’ll just keep getting better. This is what we needed to open up the tournament. As I said Western Kentucky was a very good team. They played us hard and they played us to the very end. It’s not easy it’s tournament time. No team will be a blowout I don’t think. I think it will come down to the very end.”

Baylor Freshman Forward Nina Davis

On having Coach Brock on the sidelines as opposed to Coach Mulkey:

“It was different. It was different not seeing her face on the sideline, her voice screaming and hollering at us. But Coach Brock did an outstanding job today and he coached us well and we came out with the win so the way I look at it, he could be the head coach next game for all I care.”

On dominating the paint tonight:

“At the beginning of the game when I started taking it to the goal, I found out that I was faster than the guy that was guarding me, so my teammates started feeding me the ball and I was just trying to use my quickness to get around them. And they pretty much worked through me for the night.”

WKU Lady Tops ‘not intimidated’ by Baylor, but fall 87-74 in Waco

Postgame comments from the Lady Tops after their season-ending 87-74 loss to Baylor in the NCAA tournament:


Opening thoughts: “This is definitely a little emotional for us. My team, they put so much into this, and they’ve done a ton. For us to come in here and compete the way we just did and go to the last, I’d say three minutes, it says a ton about this team and how special they are.”

Scoring against Baylor’s D: “We’ve kind of stuck with the same thing. We run a motion offense, and we get our kids comfortable in what they can do. That was the biggest thing. We came into this game saying the same thing. We were going to continue to do the things that we do, adjusting in some small ways, but what they were comfortable with.”

How did they keep team poised: “This team has kind of rode everything the coach’s said. We talked about us and what we needed to do. We gave them the game plan and how we needed to prepare, but those players really believed in this staff. Our whole goal was to play four-minute segments – four-minute games. Every time they came to the huddle, we told them what the score was.”

Not letting Baylor push lead: “It comes a lot from these couple of practices when we got here. I give a lot of credit to the seniors. Bianca McGee and Chaney Means had good practices, and we were trying to make sure they understood the environment we were going to be in. We told them, ‘This is what women’s basketball is. Preseason and in the summer, this is what you work for – to have the opportunity to play in the NCAA and play on national TV. … I know the young ladies sitting in that locker room, they’re going to be burning up inside for a while, and this is going to give us an opportunity to continue to keep growing.”

Put team back on the map: “That’s what we’re going to continue to keep doing. We’re going to continue to build this program and build it back to where we need to be. It’s a ton of credit to those players and the staff. I’m just sitting here as the head coach, but this is not about me. It’s about the players, the staff and everyone else who’s put everything into this program these two years I’ve been here. I’m just hoping all the people that were watching – former players, former coaches – that we made them proud.”

Potential for next year: “I am excited to get Alexis Govan back. And to add some freshmen and add some height. We were kind of lacking that today if y’all didn’t notice. We’ll keep getting better. I’m excited to see how much we can keep growing and where we can take this program.”

Baylor’s Nina Davis: “She is definitely a workhorse. She never stops moving, never stops working. She’s hard to block out. She’s unbelievable. Odyssey is an unbelievable player, but we knew all along that Nina was going to be the one that was going to be hard for us to contain.”


Stopping Baylor’s runs: “I think we were just confident. We knew we could play with them. We just had to get stops and rebounds. We finally started getting stops and rebounds, and then we would could score and counter their run.”

Not being intimidated: “We weren’t intimidated by them. We knew we could play. We knew they were a good team, but we were prepared for everything they threw at us. We just fell a little short.”

“We felt great. We were right in the ballgame, right where we wanted to be. Coach Heard said we kept ourselves in the game.”


Battling Baylor’s posts: “We were just trying to play smart as a team. Communicate, talk to one another.”

Playing with four fouls: “I couldn’t play as hard as I wanted to, but I just had to keep playing smart.”

Did you all make a name for yourselves: “We most definitely did. I felt like we fought throughout the whole game. We gave it our all. I think we put ourselves back out there on the map.”


Game overall: “I feel like we competed well. We followed the game plan of the coaches but just couldn’t get any rebounds during the whole game, and especially down the stretch. That led to some second-chance baskets, some fouls and some free throws.”

Keeping close with Baylor: “We always know that a team’s going to make a good run. Of course Baylor was going to make a run on us, but we wanted to remain calm no matter what.”

Davis and Sims: “Davis is one of the best freshmen we’ve played against. Very athletic, good around the basket. She rebounded very well and got some second-chance baskets. Odyssey Sims, of course, she’s averaging 30 points per game, so we knew she was going to be ready to play. I take my hat off to them. They’re two great players.”

Shape they left the program in: “It was about each other. We did it for each other and the program. Western Kentucky has a great history, and it’s great to have them back in the NCAA tournament. Just be ready, because they’re not going anywhere.”

Women’s NCAA tourney preview: WKU Lady Tops hope to remind people ‘we have some trophies, too’

Western Kentucky Lady Toppers head coach Michelle Clark-Heard (from left) Western Kentucky's Chastity Gooch and Western Kentucky's Micah Jones joke during a media conference at The Ferrell Center, in Waco, Texas, Friday, March 21, 2014. (Alex Slitz/Daily News)

Western Kentucky Lady Toppers head coach Michelle Clark-Heard (from left) Western Kentucky’s Chastity Gooch and Western Kentucky’s Micah Jones joke during a media conference at The Ferrell Center, in Waco, Texas, Friday, March 21, 2014. (Alex Slitz/Daily News)

WACO, Texas — Western Kentucky wrapped its news conference at the women’s NCAA tournament at Baylor a little while ago, with coach Michelle Clark-Heard, guards Kendall Noble and Micah Jones, and forward Chastity Gooch on the podium.

A lot of the quotes are things you folks have heard before – most of it earlier this week on this blog – so I trimmed it down to some of the new information. Look for plenty of coverage in Saturday’s BGDN and, and there’s lots of content over the course of this week available here on the blog.


Getting team prepared to play at Baylor: “No matter what team you are, you still have to make sure your team is focused when they walk into wherever they’re at. I think the greatest thing about it is that Baylor has had a ton of success, but Western Kentucky, we have some trophies, too. It’s been a while, so what we try to talk about … is making sure we can get back to this point with our program and let our program grow.”

The Western Kentucky Lady Toppers read through programs in their locker room at The Ferrell Center, in Waco, Texas, Friday, March 21, 2014. (Alex Slitz/Daily News)

The Western Kentucky Lady Toppers read through programs in their locker room at The Ferrell Center, in Waco, Texas, Friday, March 21, 2014. (Alex Slitz/Daily News)

Trying to use past success on the road to help: “We tried to make sure we kept things as normal as we possibly could. Trying to make sure we got here early and got some practice in. We have to understand and know this is a whole different environment, but we played at Vanderbilt this year, we played at Puerto Rico. We did a lot of different things.”

Baylor’s other players beside Odyssey Sims: “Odyssey – it speaks for itself. But they have a ton of other players – Davis, who is really, really good, and Robertson, who can really shoot it. They get up and down the floor. They have players with unbelievable assist-to-turnover ratios, and they love to score a ton of points. We have to make sure we get back in defensive transition and we’re locating people. … We try to take a lot of pride in our defense. I think the biggest thing is our energy and our passion. We have to make sure we bring that from the beginning.”


Playing on this stage: “I think it’s finally sunk in. We’re excited that we have the opportunity to play in the tournament, and we’re going to go out and try our best to get the ‘W.’”

Using their multiple defenses: “It’s really big for us. Our defense obviously helps us get easy baskets and helps our offense get going. When we switch up our defenses, it’s hard on the other team, and most of the time they don’t really know what defense we’re in.”


Team’s confidence: “Coming off a 10-game winning streak, we’re coming in here very confident. Just keep playing the way we have been as a team and keep communicating and focusing on defense. That’s helped us with our confidence a lot.”


Playing program like Baylor: “We’re excited. They’ve had a lot of success over the past few years, and that’s what we’re trying to get back to with our program. It’s a great opportunity for us to come here and play Baylor.”

Women’s NCAA tourney preview: Baylor prepares for role as heavy favorite against WKU

Lady Tops in Texas

Baylor women’s basketball head coach Kim Mulkey answers questions during a media conference at The Ferrell Center, in Waco, Texas, Friday, March 21, 2014. (Alex Slitz/Daily News)

WACO, Texas — Things officially kicked off in Waco, Texas, today with all participants at the first- and second-round games at Baylor holding news conferences and practices today at the arena.

That includes Western Kentucky and Baylor, who meet at 5:30 p.m. CDT Saturday on ESPN2.

Here are comments from Baylor coach Kim Mulkey and seniors Odyssey Sims and Makenzie Robertson about their first-round matchup. Western Kentucky is scheduled to hit the podium later this afternoon.


On her one-game suspension for the opener against WKU: “Let me answer that, if I may, and be long-winded here. Quit writing about me being suspended, because really, the game is not about me, and the focus doesn’t need to be about me. I’m suspended. I don’t regret being suspended. I’m gonna fight for my team, and that’s why I’m suspended. But it’s about those players, and I don’t care what happens tomorrow. Win or lose, it won’t be because I am or am not on the sideline. OK? I say that in all honesty, because those guys that will be leading the charge tomorrow, they’re my right hand, my left hand. They do everything for me. They do the scouting reports, who we need to guard. I just every now and then call a timeout. Let the focus be about the team. That’s why really suspending me, that wasn’t the answer. It takes the focus away from the team, and this is about the student-athletes.”

Not being at the arena: “How is it going to be? I’m going to sit down there. I’m going to have a big plate of food. I’m not going to come up here and watch the other game. I’m going to watch it on TV as well. If I don’t like the way it’s going or not enjoying it, I’ll go out in the yard and pick weeds, and every now and then walk in the back door and check the score. I’m not nervous about it. I’m not uptight about it. I’m very confident in everybody that will be in that locker room.”

WKU’s players other than Gooch: “They’ve got the freshman of the year in Noble. That’s a pretty good, athletic league. To have the defensive player of the year, the freshman of the year … that speaks volumes. I go back many, many years to the Paul Sanderford days at Western Kentucky. When I was an assistant at Louisiana-Tech, we had many battles. That program, if you haven’t followed women’s basketball for a long time, that program has a storied history. They’ve been to Final Fours, they’ve played for a national championship, I used to recruit some of the players he had in that program. To see it come back tells you about their coach who played there. There’s a lot of pride there. She is to be complimented on what she’s done there in a short period of time.”

Any similarities between Heard and Paul Sanderford and Jeff Walz: “Maybe some of the zone stuff, but she’s pressing – three-quarters press, and I don’t recall Jeff’s teams at Louisville doing much of that. … I’m sure she has to do what is best for her personnel, but she presses a lot. I can’t remember if Paul did a lot of that. I’m remember back in the day, he would triangle-and-2 us at Louisiana Tech when we had two of the great shooters. She’s probably learned lots of different types of junk defenses, but she seems committed to her zones and her presses. It’s been very successful for her.”

Baylor’s young players’ nerves: “I think once they tip it off, and once they score a basket or do something good, they’ll relax. I anticipate they’ll perform the way they have all year. The two-week layoff is a concern because I don’t know how it will affect us. It gave us time to heal bodies, but you’ll be a little rusty.”

More on their inexperience: “I don’t know that you can say we’re inexperienced now. I tend to think the Big 12 prepares you for the postseason. If we were in a weak conference, you may be a little hesitant to wonder how they’re going to perform in the postseason. But our league prepares you for it.”

Keeping players focused on early games: “I take it one step at a time. When you look at who we play tomorrow, Western Kentucky won that tournament. Western Kentucky is good.”

Drawing fans: “What’s good about our being able to host the first and second rounds, if you look, we put people in the stands. That, quite honestly, has been a problem with women’s basketball. We’re separate from the men, and we don’t need to pretend to compete with what how the men do it. It is always disappointing when you watch a women’s NCAA playoff game on TV, and there’s nobody in the stands. You know when you put a first- or second-round game at Baylor – whether we’re in it or not – we love our women’s basketball here.”


Baylor practicing Friday after its news conference in Waco, Texas.

Baylor practicing Friday after its news conference in Waco, Texas.

Playing this week without Mulkey: “I think she’s prepared us all week. She’s done a good job of helping us out as much as she can. I think we’ll need to step up a lot more than we’ve ever done before, just because it’s something new to us.”

On WKU: “They switch up their defenses. They press throughout the whole game. You never really know what defense they’re in. Try to make you play a little faster than what we’re used to, rush shots, turn the ball over – just create havoc. We’ve been working on it all week. We just can’t let their defense dictate how we play on offense.”


Playing without Mulkey, her mother: “It’s going to be obvious that we’re missing her. She’s kind of dominating over there. Not easy to miss, but we’re ready, and she’s prepared us. We have a great staff and assistant coaches that we trust.”

On WKU: “They also have some posts that can do it all. They shoot 3s, they’ll take charges, run the floor. We’ll have to play as a team.”

Two-week layoff before playing again: “The best thing that could’ve happened was the two weeks because it gave everyone a chance to kind of rest up and recover with our bodies. It gave us enough time, but now that it’s kind of dragging on and we’re right here, I think everyone’s just ready to play.”

On assistant coach Bill Brock: “Coach Brock is probably not quite as crazy as my mom, but he has the intensity and competitiveness. He knows how to reach out to us as players.”

BILL BROCK, assistant who will coach against WKU

On coaching against WKU: “It’s not like I haven’t been around the program a lot and know the offenses and defenses and stuff. There will be no surprises. The coaches have been involved in all the preparation. We’re going to try to carry out the plan.”

Differences from WKU: “There’s going to be two different things – one is the kind of personality on the sideline, and the second thing is I’m definitely going to lose the wardrobe contest.”

On Western Kentucky: “What I see is a very determined team that plays hard. They change defenses a lot and try to causes confusion on the defensive end of the floor. You’ve got to make sure you make good decisions with the basketball in your hand. That’ll be a main focus of our two point guards. They’ve got to know where the next pass needs to go and how we’re supposed to attack. They’re a very good team. In fact, I think they’re a little bit under-seeded. I think they should’ve been seeded a little higher, I really do.”

From Baylor side: Coach Mulkey: ‘Home courts don’t guarantee wins’


About being in Notre Dame’s region: “You never want to be in a region where you have to go play somebody and beat them on their home floor, but we’re not going to worry about that at this point. We’re going to think about Western Kentucky. I have lots and lots of memories of playing those guys back when I was at Louisiana Tech.”

Not being able to coach against WKU: “It’s difficult, but yet, it’s not as bad as you think because if you prepare them, those kids can go out there and win a basketball game. They don’t need us on that sideline but maybe every now and then to call a timeout and make a few adjustments.”

Remember anything about WKU? “It’s not the same coaches. Paul Sanderford was there. Jeff Walz was an assistant there. There were some tremendous battles between Louisiana Tech and Western Kentucky in the day, but they’re not there anymore. So we’ve got to go study what they do. If they won the conference … we’ll do our work. You’ve got to be pretty good if you’re one of the 64, because you don’t just waltz into a conference tournament and win games in that many games and not be very good or well-coached.”

More talk about not being in UConn region, being in Notre Dame’s: “But I’m gonna tell you, now. We can’t keep talking about that because I’ve got a young group that’s never been in the playoffs. We have to take care of business here in Waco. … Home courts don’t guarantee victories.”


Transitioning to life without Brittney Griner: “Last year, with Brittney Griner being on the inside, she made the game unfair. It was easy to get it inside to her. Throw three or four defenders at her, and she was still able to score. This year, we’re focusing more on pick-and-roll, getting transition buckets, 3s. We’re trying to spread the floor a little bit more.”

Handling defensive attention: “My coaches and my teammates do a great job in practicing of helping me see all kinds of defenses. They throw three, four people at me, anything to get the ball out of my hands. It forces my teammates to score. They’re stepping up and doing a really good job.”

Loss to Louisville last year: “Just thinking about the game, it still makes me mad that we were right there and lost by one. Going into this season, I used that to motivate me.”

Playing WKU without Mulkey: “We haven’t really talked about her not coaching. I think coach Mulkey will handle it well. Our coaching staff will handle it well. We’ll do just fine. We’re still going to practice hard the whole week, and come Saturday, we’ll be ready to play.”


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