Michelle Clark-Heard previews regular season finale vs. Middle Tennessee

We met with WKU women’s basketball coach Michelle Clark-Heard today, just 16 hours after talking to her following the Lady Tops’ 65-59 home loss to South Alabama.

Heard previewed Saturday’s regular season finale at 11 a.m. against Middle Tennessee at E.A. Diddle Arena.

She also talked about trying to keep players from focusing too much on or putting too much pressure on themselves because of seeding implications.

WKU will finish no better than third in the conference, but no worse than fifth. As the No. 3 seed, the Lady Tops would play the No. 6 or 11 seed on the second day of the conference tournament. As the fourth seed, they would play the No. 5.

Plenty of things can happen in the next couple of days, but the Lady Tops are more likely to end up in the 4-5 game because they don’t hold tiebreakers on Florida International or Arkansas State.

It’s a big mess, but be sure to follow me on Twitter (@zach_greenwell) for updates as they become available. Here are Heard’s comments from today:

MICHELLE CLARK-HEARD

South Alabama loss: “We did some things, in terms of not taking care of the basketball in crucial situations. We let one particular person catch the ball and get some points inside. We’ve got to make sure at the end of games like we’ve been having – we shouldn’t be in that situation, but when we are, the kids have to feel confident in what we’re going to do.”

Feeling pressure: “I think the kids got a little rattled, and part of that is probably where we’re at. They see the papers. They see Twitter. They see the things about having a chance to be in third place. You’ve got to take that as a learning lesson and keep moving forward.”

Implications of MTSU game: “This one game isn’t going to get us to the NCAA tournament. We have to focus on getting better, get ready for this game, and then we’ve got three big games after this. If we win those three, then we get to the NCAA.”

Parity in the league: “You’re not going to play any easy teams to get to the NCAA. You’ve got to play teams to win. It doesn’t really make a difference, and that’s why I kept preaching about the bye. The bye is really important for us.”

Gravity of a win Saturday: “It would be big, even if it wasn’t Middle, because you’re going into the Sun Belt tournament. Any win is a big win. I know a lot of times we try to make this – it’s Middle, and it’s our rival – but at the end of the day, Middle is our next opponent on the schedule.”

First loss to MTSU: “I think our game plan was perfect. We did some different things to disrupt them. You can’t let them get settled into what they do. We were in the game for 33 minutes, and in the last seven minutes, we lost focus to where Kortni Jones was. … I don’t think that score indicated how well we played down there, and our kids will remember that.”

Closing out at home: “I’m not going to them, talking to them about this being live-or-die for our season, because it’s not. We’re going to compete like this is our last home game on our schedule in front of our home crowd. We want to have a great showing and play with energy and passion, because this is the last thing people are going to remember. I want them to go away thinking how awesome and fun it was to watch this team play this year.”

Is it a rivalry game for you? “It’s different for me, because when I played here, Middle was not a rival for us. As a coach, I try to make sure we play every game to the best of our ability for us. It’s different nowadays, too, with the social media. But I talk to them about competing and trying to be the best they can be.”

Postgame: WKU falls at home to South Alabama, 65-59

The Western Kentucky women’s basketball team allowed South Alabama to score nine unanswered points to end Wednesday night’s game, falling 65-59 at E.A. Diddle Arena.

The loss eliminates the Lady Tops (20-8, 13-6 Sun Belt Conference) from contention for the No. 1 seed in next month’s conference tournament, which will now go to Middle Tennessee.

WKU could finish anywhere from 3-5 in the seeding before the final week of the regular season is over. The Lady Tops finish at 11 a.m. Saturday against MTSU.

Sophomore guard Alexis Govan led WKU with 16 points, while freshman forward Jalynn McClain added 12 points and nine rebounds in 27 minutes off the bench.

Sophomore forward Chastity Gooch added nine points and seven rebounds, and junior guard Chaney Means had six points and six assists.

Mary Nixon and Brianna Wright paced South Alabama (16-12, 9-10) with 17 and 16 points, respectively.

Here are postgame comments from Govan, McClain, WKU coach Michelle Clark-Heard and South Alabama coach Rick Pietri.

MICHELLE CLARK-HEARD

Opening thoughts: “They had kids that were shooting 43 percent from the free-throw line. They made free throws, they rebounded.”

Falling late: “We were right there in the game. I don’t know, it’s disappointing because we were right there on our home court and let another one slip away from us … but we’ve got to keep growing.”

More on USA’s late burst: “We probably should’ve took it to the basket when we shot a 3, but I told the kids in the huddle there was no one play that lost that game for us. We had certain situations and different things that we didn’t execute on.”

On USA’s Brianna Wright: “I guess she loves playing against us because she had a field day at their place. She’s a big-time player. When she gets the ball in her hands, she can score. I take my hat off to South Alabama, to come in here on the road and play as well as they did.”

More on end of game: “I’m proud of my girls because it was a battle. We came out of the locker room and took the lead. We adjusted, but there are some things we’ll have to do to adjust to make sure we don’t make the same crucial mistakes in certain situations.”

On Jalynn McClain: “Her confidence has been incredible. She’s been playing great in practice and working, and when she shoots the ball, you can see her confidence has really gone up. That was big for us because Chastity struggled tonight. This was one of the nights she did struggle some, but that’s OK. You’ve got to have other people step up, and I was proud of Jalynn.”

MTSU up next: “I want to make sure the kids don’t dwell on this loss. We’ve got to move forward. We’ll do some correctly and get our game plan together for Middle. We want to be able to battle. I’ve always told the players from the beginning, they have to give us a chance to be in the game in the last five minutes, and that’s what they did.”

ALEXIS GOVAN, sophomore guard

End of game: “It’s very frustrating. It always comes back to how we start the game off. We didn’t start off very well, and we didn’t have the energy we talked about having. We have to start off better so we don’t get in that hole and have that problem at the end.”

11-0 run to take lead: “We played some defense and pushed the ball down their throats when we could. We boxed out. During that spurt we had, we boxed out and didn’t get them any second chances.”

MTSU next: “We’re going to regroup and come back here Saturday. We’re going to have energy from the tip and keep it and play some ball.”

Moving on: “We’ve got to shake it off. Think about it tonight, come back tomorrow and hit it hard. It’s not just that it’s Middle. It’s our last home game, and we want to show this crowd what we’ve worked for all season long. We want to go out with a bang.”

JALYNN MCCLAIN, freshman forward

Stepping up tonight: “I work hard in practice, or I try to. Coach always tells me to shoot the ball with confidence, and tonight it showed.”

Heard helping confidence: “She helps me out a lot. She believes in me and what we’re trying to do here. That gives me the confidence out on the court.”

RICK PIETRI, South Alabama coach

“I’m extremely proud of our team. To come in here and win at Western – we beat them at our place, but … we had to play this game on its own.”

Free throws: “We haven’t shot free throws well all year, and we make 14 of 14. We make 6 for 6 on three one-and-ones. I can’t tell you how many front ends we’ve missed over the course of the year, and it’s cost us games in some cases.”

“They had the right focus and right attention we had to have to win it. They had the right energy, and we were able to get it done.”

WKU’s 11-0 run: “I had to use a timeout because I couldn’t let the snowball keep building. I went ahead and used it, and fortunately we were able to recollect ourselves.”

“We were able to answer tonight. I think that’s the biggest thing. Offensively, we were able to answer tonight, and that’s something we haven’t done consistently this year.”

On Heard’s turnaround at WKU: “I think she’s done a brilliant job. I think when you look at the growth of some of the players that were here last year, with what they produced last year versus what they’re producing this year, I think you see an incredible amount of growth for Govan and Gooch. Those kids weren’t even close to that good of players last year. Those are legitimate all-conference players, and last year, they weren’t even in the conversation.

More on turnaround: “They’re doing the right stuff with the roster they have. We’ve played two good games against them. We’ve done our thing, and I don’t make any apologies for that. But I’m thoroughly impressed with the job Michelle has done with this bunch.”

Parity in league: “It’s been years since we had this kind of parity – years. It’s been a long time since you had a situation where you could have Troy go into Middle and beat Middle. There are no surprises. I mean, mild shocks, but no surprises. It’s a good league this year with a lot of good players.”

Solid players in league: “Last year, it was hard to get to 15. This year, I got to 15 and I’m leaving out good players. This is a very good basketball league this year. I think it’s going to make for a heck of a tournament.”

Michelle Clark-Heard talks South Alabama, final week of regular season and seeding

It’s moving week for Sun Belt Conference women’s basketball.

The top-five teams for next month’s conference tournament are set, including Western Kentucky, but the Lady Toppers could fall anywhere from No. 1 to 5 depending on how this week shakes out.

WKU (20-7, 13-5 SBC) finishes with two home games, starting at 7 p.m. Wednesday against South Alabama.

Here are comments from today from WKU coach Michelle Clark-Heard:

MICHELLE CLARK-HEARD

On significance of this week: “We want to be able to finish up here at home. To go on the road and take care of business and now be able to come here and play in front of home crowd for the last two, they’re really excited. We all are. It’s a big week, and it’s always a big week when you get down to crunch time.”

Playing two at home against teams that beat you on the road: “I think it’s awesome to be in a position where you can play at home, and you’ve already got those two road games out of the way. I feel like we’ve gone back and watched film on both of the teams and focused on some of the things we need to correct. Right now, this is all about Western Kentucky and getting better.”

Are you watching seeding? “We have to make sure we’re taking care of ourselves. That’s the only thing we can control. I’m just excited we don’t have to play on the first day and got a bye.”

On South Alabama: “Them and Arkansas State were the two teams that were able to exploit their size against us better than anybody in the conference.”

Saturday’s 77-58 win at Louisiana-Lafayette: “Don’t get me wrong, we still turned the ball over 18 times. But we shot free throws, we made open shots. Those are things that I’m excited about.”

More on first South Al game: “They killed us on the inside. We adjusted late in that game. I went back and watched the film, and we’ll have to change up some things defensively. We still had energy in the second half. It was just one of those games. If we would’ve had five more minutes in that game, I think it would’ve been a different turnaround.”

Nearing largest turnaround in conference history: “I have a lot of friends who got head coaching jobs this year and are struggling some. I’m very fortunate, I know that. There were a lot of games that were close and could have gone either way. We were fortunate to get out of some of those games. But the biggest thing is the people around you, and everybody trying to buy into your vision.”

Deciding to give freedom on offense, challenge team on defense: “Every situation is different, but that’s what worked for us here.”

Postgame: Lady Tops hold on to beat Louisiana-Monroe 65-63

The Western Kentucky women’s basketball team weathered Louisiana-Monroe’s highs and lows Wednesday night, holding on for a 65-63 win at E.A. Diddle Arena.

The Lady Toppers (19-7, 12-5 Sun Belt Conference) held ULM to 2 of 18 shooting to the start the game, but the Warhawks shot 48.9 percent the rest of the way and pulled in front midway through the second half.

WKU reclaimed the lead with a layup by guard Alexis Govan and didn’t relinquish it behind the sophomore’s strong play.

She scored a game-high 27 points, including 13 of the Lady Tops’ final 20 after falling behind, and found freshman forward Jalynn McClain for an easy layup with 25 seconds left to provide a needed cushion at 65-61.

Sophomore forward Chastity Gooch had 14 points and 12 rebounds for her 21st double-double this season and first in three games.

McClain added six points and four rebounds, while junior guard Chaney Means finished with two points, a career-high eight rebounds and three assists.

Here are postgame comments from WKU coach Michelle Clark-Heard, Govan, Gooch and McClain:

MICHELLE CLARK-HEARD, coach

Opening statement: “We found a way to survive that one. I’m just proud of our kids – their heart and their intensity and trying to find a way to win.”

Is a win a win at this point? “We’re 12-5 in the conference and 19-7, so that’s what you have to look at this time of the year. It’s survive and advance, and every game, you have to figure out how to get that ‘W.'”

How did ULM get back in it? “We kept turning it over. We had possession after possession where we’d turn it over instead of making a good pass. That’s been our Achilles’ heel, but they didn’t get down on themselves at any time.”

Govan taking over late: “I’m so proud of Alexis, how she continues to step up and find a way and find her teammates. I want them to keep having fun and finding a way to win so they can enjoy it.”

Playing Govan and Gooch in foul trouble: “I have to, because of our team and because how our team responds to them, too. It’s really important. I not only look at what they do for us on the floor, but what they do for the team. The team looks up to them. I feel comfortable putting them in those situations. Alexis gets really excited, so we have to be careful with her sometimes, but Chastity’s been really good with that.”

Ciera Woods’ bench play: “Ciera is getting better and better every day in practice. I’m trying to give her a few minutes where she can be successful on the court. I was really proud of Mariah Sunkett today. She had a couple good practices back-to-back. As the season goes, that’s what happens. Different people have to step up at different times.”

Bench stepping up as a whole: “The team gets so excited. Alexis and Chastity get excited for the bench because they know, now they’re getting better and they can come in and help and contribute. Of course they don’t want to get in foul trouble, but when I put Ciera in the game, Chastity Gooch is the first one that’s screaming.”

On Louisiana-Lafayette: “It wasn’t an easy ballgame when we played them here. They shot the 3 well, so we’ll have to sit down and guard. They’ll be ready for us. We’re going to have to go in and have a little more energy than what we had when we went through that little lull here.”

ALEXIS GOVAN, sophomore guard

Coming through with the win: “We got into the huddle and told each other to calm down and stop panicking. We had to get back to the way we were playing at the beginning with a lot of energy.”

Lull in second half: “It came out of nowhere. It just died down, and there was nothing. Finally, we were able to pick it back up, but we can’t do that. We can’t.”

Taking over late: “I was just moving without the ball and letting my teammates find me like they always do. When they did, they called out, ‘Shot,’ and I shot the ball.”

On ULL: “We started off strong with road wins, and we want to finish the same way.”

CHASTITY GOOCH, sophomore forward

How do you stay effective with four fouls: “I try not to make stupid fouls like how I made my first four. Sometimes I have to tell myself to calm down. If I see somebody coming in the lane, I can’t block everybody’s shot. I’ve got to tell myself to lay back a little bit.”

Confidence in team’s bench: “I have a lot of confidence in them. You have to trust your teammates, and I do.”

JALYNN McCLAIN, freshman forward

What is your mindset as one of the main reserves? “Just come out ready to play. They give me confidence to focus and make my layups, so they help me a lot with that.”

Michelle Clark-Heard previews ULM as Lady Tops prepare for final stretch

We met with WKU women’s basketball coach Michelle Clark-Heard today to preview Wednesday’s home game against Louisiana-Monroe.

The Lady Tops, who lost 72-53 on Saturday at FIU, play three of their final four games at E.A. Diddle Arena.

MICHELLE CLARK-HEARD

FIU loss: “I felt we played well in the first half, and in the second half, when you shoot 16 percent, it speaks for itself. It was one of those nights. Defensively, when you have two or three big people running in and out the whole time, we hadn’t really faced that this year. They altered our shot some, and shot selection for us was not good.”

Putting loss behind them: “When I talk about moving on, I talk about the great things we’ve been doing in the past. That’s something we have to get back to. You take your losses and you learn from them. I did individual film sessions with a couple of the kids and showed them particular things, but I didn’t want to harp on that game with the whole team continue to point out some of the things we didn’t do.”

What they can take from FIU game: “We’ve never been in a position where we came out in the second half and a team consistently kept making shots, and we couldn’t score. That was a learning situation. We talked about defense and finding other ways to stay in the game.”

Team bouncing back after losses: “You have to be very proud of this group. We’ve learned how to come back in after a loss and do the things we need to get better.”

Playing at home: “We’ve talked about how awesome it is for us to compete on the road like we have, and now we can come back home, and the fans can come watch us. Our goal is always to win our home games.”

First game vs. ULM: “When you win, you’ve always got to go back and look at the things that worked. But they’re going to go back and watch that game film and see the things that hurt them, because that was a close game until the last seven minutes.”

How ULM has improved: “They’ve grown up a whole lot. They’ve got kids that can score. They get the ball out in transition, and Shaw can shoot the 3. It’s going to be a big test for us. Don’t look at their record and think it’s not going to be a game.”

Postgame: WKU baseball gets 4-3 victory in Tanner Perkins’ return

The WKU baseball team got its first win of the season Sunday with a 4-3 victory over Bowling Green State at Nick Denes Field.

Junior pitcher Tanner Perkins pitched four strong innings for the win in his return from Tommy John Surgery, and junior reliever Andrew Edwards struck out nine in relief to help WKU secure the win.

Here are postgame comments from coach Matt Myers, Perkins, Edwards and senior catcher Devin Kelly:

MATT MYERS, coach

Getting the win: “I was happy with our guys. We came out and played a complete game. We had a little adversity there in the ninth, but we didn’t fade away from it.”

Tanner Perkins: “He was only supposed to go three. He was so efficient today that I let him go one more. … It’s amazing. Pro baseball, college baseball – when you’re No. 1 is on the mound, even though he’s pitching on Sunday, his presence just makes everybody play better.”

Andrew Edwards: “If he’s not a weekend starter, he may be our closer. I’ve just got him set up right now because you don’t know what you’re going to get with Tanner every week. You have to make sure he’s protected. Andrew was going to close if we got to that situation. We’ll address our rotation next week. Justin (Hageman) was a little tight in his shoulder so we want to make sure he’s OK. If not, then Andrew can flip into the rotation. We’ve got a lot of depth. It’s a good thing to have.”

Driving in runners in scoring position: “I loved our approach. We got right after them in the first inning. That’s baseball, and that’s what you’re going to do. When we’re pitching the way we are, every run means something. We left a couple more out there today, but we were pitching well enough that it was good enough for us to win.”

ANDREW EDWARDS, junior pitcher

Strength of bullpen: “We do have a lot of new guys. It’s just going to take getting in there and getting some innings. My first batter was a walk. It was just those jitters, but once they all get in there and get their feet wet, we’ll be good to go.”

Ninth inning: “It was pretty nerve-wracking. I really wanted that win, but I had full confidence in turning the ball over to Ian, and he got the job done for us.”

TANNER PERKINS, junior pitcher

Returning to the mound: “First, I want to thank the good Lord for allowing me to get back so fast. He’s always No. 1, and he helped me through the process. The guys were behind me the whole way.”

Getting back in groove: “It started to come back after I got out there. I was a little anxious at first, but my nerves calmed down, and I was able to get the first guy. That helped me a lot.”

Coming out after 41 pitches: “It was real tough, but that’s the way we planned to do it. I’m perfectly fine with that.”

Avoiding sweep: “It’s a big confidence boost with us. We’ve got another good team coming in, so maybe we’ll get it started off on the right foot the way we’re supposed to at home.”

DEVIN KELLY, senior catcher

Ninth inning: “It got away from us a little bit. I should’ve blocked that ball in the dirt, and I tried to make a play for the team. The outcome wasn’t what we wanted, but Andrew pitched great all day.”

On Perkins: “Tanner is the definition of hard work. It was good for him to have success early for his confidence.”

Winning a close one: “We come out here every day trying to win ballgames. We let two one-run ballgames get away from us, so we easily could have been on the other side of that and had a little excitement in the dugout. But you gotta get at least one, right?”

Approach at plate: “It was exciting. A couple of young guys sparked us today. It’s all just about putting the ball in play and driving guys in.”

Postgame: WKU baseball team drops to 0-2 with loss to BGSU

The Western Kentucky baseball team (0-2) struggled at the plate Saturday and left seven runners on base in a 3-2 loss to Bowling Green State at Nick Denes Field.

Unlike Friday’s opener, when WKU allowed eight runs in the first two innings, senior pitcher Tim Bado kept the Toppers in the thick of it Saturday with a strong first start.

Bado allowed a career-low four hits and no walks in 5 2/3 innings, surrendering two runs on 69 pitches for a no-decision.

Senior first baseman Ryan Huck, who hit a solo homer in the second inning, was the only Topper with multiple hits. The Toppers are 4-of-20 with runners in scoring position through two games.

WKU will give the ball to junior pitcher Tanner Perkins for Sunday’s series finale at 1 p.m. The start will be Perkins’ first since March 9, 2012, following Tommy John Surgery.

Perkins has thrown as many as 60 pitches this year, coach Matt Myers said, but will be on an innings limit. Junior Andrew Edwards will the first arm out of the bullpen, he said.

Here are postgame comments from Myers, Huck and Bado:

MATT MYERS, coach

Losing close games: “When these guys get that taste of overcoming that and winning, I think we’re going to take off. As you’ve seen the first two days, it’s pretty good arms for us. I told them, ‘Expect games like this.'”

Trouble at the plate: “We did a horrible job today with guys at third base and less than two outs, putting the ball in play. We can’t be taking strike three, and those are the things that when teams start to win, those at-bats change. That should’ve been about an 8-3 game today, but it wasn’t, and Bowling Green took advantage.”

Little things costing them: “It’s cost us two games. No disrespect to our opponent, but we’ve had opportunities in both games with the little things in execution. Both winning runs in the last two days should’ve been knocked down in the infield. For tough, gritty, winning teams, that’s an automatic.”

0-2 start at home: “It’s not a panic button, but we take a lot of pride in winning here.”

Perkins being on pitch count for Sunday: “Bowling Green’s an important game, but having him be in conference play, healthy, that’s the No. 1 goal.”

RYAN HUCK, senior first baseman

0-2 start: “It’s disappointing, of course. I think we’re a better team than them, and I think we’re a better team than we’ve shown. We should be able to go right now and put up more runs, but it’s about putting the ball in play and doing the little things right.”

Goals for Sunday: “We don’t want to get swept on our own home field. We’re a good home team – always have been. We want to take a game tomorrow.”

Getting two extra-base hits: “We’re trying to attack fastballs as much as we can. We want to find mistake pitches. They made a couple mistakes, and I was able to capitalize on them. We want to make those mistakes hurt.”

Bado’s pitching effort: “If our offense could’ve gotten a couple of runs together, that game should’ve been a no-brainer because Tim threw outstanding.”

 

TIM BADO, senior pitcher

His effort: “With Justin (Hageman) struggling yesterday, I noticed that all you have to do is fill up the zone against these guys. That’s what I focused on.”

Potential of the staff: “We have unbelievable potential this year as a staff. With Justin, Tanner and I, we give ourselves a chance to win every time out, and with that bullpen, we’re going to be really tough.”

Strength of the bullpen: “Last year, I kind of felt like I had to go seven or eight innings every time and hope we could get it done. But this year, I feel that if I get my job done in five or six, those guys will save it for me.”

0-2 start: “To be honest, it’s been a little embarrassing. We know we’re a lot better than we’ve played, so we’ve got to take it one game at a time. We’ll clean it up.”