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.
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.”