Michelle Clark-Heard talks attendance, the 2013 signing class and the future

I met with WKU coach Michelle Clark-Heard today to do some spring cleaning on a variety of subjects.

I’ll let you work your way through all this information. I posted some updates on WKU’s 2013-14 schedule and coaching staff earlier today at bgdailynews.com, but this is the rest of the conversation.

MICHELLE CLARK-HEARD

How did you feel about attendance in Diddle Arena this year? “I feel like we had some crowds that picked up, definitely, from the numbers I saw from last year. But I also understand what (WKU athletic director) Todd (Stewart) was saying, that people would have to come out and see what the team was about and what the girls were doing. I think that with what we showed the fans, I’m hoping we have an improvement. I don’t know how much it’ll be, but I know one thing – we’re going to promote and try to build off that.”

Was it difficult having 700 or so fans for a postseason home game? “You’ve got to prove to people. We know where this program was, but it took a lull there for a minute, and we’re working to get it back. One thing I was impressed with, even though we had 700 something, that had to be one of the loudest groups of 700 fans you’re going to see. That was awesome for our players. Of course, we’re always going to live off the tradition that we have, but we also have to live in reality. We have to know what’s going on around us and what’s gone on the last couple of years, so we’re trying to live in the present.”

Heard said the players got this week off, and they’ll soon have three weeks of individual work. During that time, players can have two hours of basketball work and six hours of strength and conditioning per week.

The coaches can recruit during the April weekend that serves as the spring evaluation period and again in July.

What holes will the 2013 class fill? “The biggest thing I’m looking for, especially after the Auburn game, is to be able to have some size. We knew that was going to be a struggle for us this year, but I’m really proud of what we did without anyone over 6-2. Bria Gaines and Ruta (Savickaite) will be crucial to us and will allow us to let Chastity (Gooch) play with her back to the basket.”

Heard said 2013 signee Aleeya Harris will likely play the 4 spot, and that she’s athletic, can get up the floor and rebound. Kierra Muhammad will provide defense and quickness, she said. “I think that’s one thing we need – someone to put on the ball constantly so we can cause chaos.”

Do you still feel like Gaines is the signee most ready for college ball right now? “That’s what I think, but what I hope is that I’m sitting here with you in the first couple weeks after practice saying, ‘I know I said Bria, but we’ve got this kid stepping up and that kid stepping up.’ That’s what we need to have.”

On freshman forward Jalynn McClain: “Jalynn McClain’s upside is unbelievable. I think she grew through the whole postseason and she ended up being our sixth man. … The biggest thing for her is working on her game to try to pull her out and put her at the 3. Getting her confident in her shot will be big for her.”

Heard said she hopes freshman guard Kendall Noble, out with a torn ACL, can be released in June.

She said during the offseason, the coaches will likely break down freshman guard LeAsia Wright’s shot and try to improve her form.

Heard also said she’s expecting solid senior leadership from guards Chaney Means and Bianca McGee next season.

On Gooch and Alexis Govan not having to carry so much of the load next season: “It’s going to be an adjustment for all those players. When you go from having nine all year to 15, it’s going to be an adjustment. But it’ll be awesome for them because they won’t be in a situation where they feel like they have to play 32 minutes a game. As coaches, if we’ve got kids playing that many minutes, we don’t think we’ve done our job. They won’t have all that pressure like they had this year.”

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Lady Tops talk after season-ending loss at Auburn

I talked by phone a few minutes ago with WKU women’s basketball coach Michelle Clark-Heard and sophomore guard Alexis Govan after their 84-66 loss at Auburn in the second round of the Women’s NIT.

A quick recap of that game is available here.

Here are Heard and Govan’s comments:

MICHELLE CLARK-HEARD, coach

Trying to battle Auburn’s size and length: “I’m super-proud of them. We executed the game plan on different changes, but it wore down on us. The game plan was to spread them out and shoot the 3 early on and kind of pull the bigs out. We worked on the press, of course, and I think we handled it in the beginning, but then we made some crucial turnovers. The size just wore on us.”

Cutting lead down after cold start to second half: “We told them, ‘We’ve been in this situation before, and we’ve just got to keep plugging away and take care of the basketball.’ I was really proud of them because we pushed the ball and got shots up, and we had to stop turning it over so much so that we at least had the opportunity to shoot it.”

What will you all take away from this WNIT experience? “We were on the road at an SEC school, and we were able to get back within nine. We’ll let them enjoy themselves because it’s been a long season, but we’ll get back to work here soon. We’re going to work to get better because our ultimate goal is to win championship and get to the NCAA.”

Not graduating any players: “I know this postseason has gotten them hungry. I think they understand that they sky’s the limit for this group. We’ve just got to stay committed, and we’ll get to where we’re trying to go.”

ALEXIS GOVAN, sophomore guard

Auburn’s size and length: “They definitely tried to go inside as much as possible. They pressed us a lot and used their length, but most of all, they went to the boards.”

Starting 8 of 13 from 3-point range: “Every time we passed the ball to somebody, we were yelling out, ‘Shot,’ to let them know to shoot the ball with confidence. We were knocking them down.”

WNIT experience, playing at SEC opponent: “We competed with them the whole game. We let them get away a little bit, but in the first half, you could tell we’re on the rise. Playing like that and not having any seniors with everyone coming back is great.”

Gaining more program support this season: “It’s motivation. We’re all ready to get back to the gym and get ready for next season. We have the community behind us, and we’ve got people cheering us on, home and away. It’s completely different than last year, and we’re loving it. We’ll keep bringing people out, hopefully, and get them out next year.”

WKU’s quarterback battle in full force in Petrino’s new offense

WKU held its second football practice of the spring today, and the focus was on the Hilltoppers’ wide-open quarterback battle after the graduation of senior starter Kawaun Jakes.

We talked today with quarterbacks James Mauro, Brandon Doughty and DaMarcus Smith, as well as offensive coordinator Jeff Brohm. Here are their comments:

JEFF BROHM, offensive coordinator

How have the first two days been? “I think our guys are eager to get on the field. They have a good attitude. They’re willing to work hard, and it’s all about getting better every day. As long as our guys understand the importance of pushing ourselves to get better every single day, then that’ll happen.”

Throwing a lot at players: “This offense we have, we want to have answers to problems. We want to have solutions. Right now, we are throwing a lot of things at them. We want them to continue to absorb the offense and play fast, so they’ve got to study things off the field and learn from watching practice on film. It’s a work in progress, but they are working hard and have a good attitude.”

How have your quarterbacks been? “All three of them are working hard. They’re putting in the time. There’s plenty of things to work on, without question, but I think they’re all willing to absorb things. It’s about getting better every day. We have to get better not only learning the offense, but throwing the football – our mechanics, our fundamentals and our technique.”

Competition between the QBs: “We want competition. We’ve got three guys that are competing for the spot. We’re trying to give them all equal reps so they can prove what they can do. We’ll have some scrimmages coming up, and really, it’s about performing in game-like scrimmages. That’s going to be the main thing.”

DAMARCUS SMITH

How does it feel to be back out there? “It’s been very exciting. It’s a humbling experience, just knowing what all I’ve had to go through just to get this second opportunity. I’m just blessed and thankful to be able to be there with these guys.”

Was it hard at times to not be out there? “I can’t lie, there was times I was very impatient. But I give so much respect to coach Taggart and the past coaching staff and my teammates, because everybody supported me and made me feel at home. They really made me feel like I made the right decision when I transferred here.”

Are people feeling some nerves or rushing out there? “As competitors and athletes, we don’t want to admit it, but you’re definitely going to have some nervous jitters the first couple of days. Everybody wants to be right.”

Relationship with other QBs: “It’s pretty fun. The relationship we’ve built with each other is pretty unique. We’re pretty much forced to have a good relationship with each other because we’re together every day. A quarterback, especially in Petrino’s offense, has to spend so much time watching film and having meetings to go over this offense. I’ve been able to learn from those guys.”

Playing in Petrino’s offense: “I’ve kept up with coach Petrino. He coached at Louisville, and that’s where I’m from, so I grew up as a kid being able to watch his offense. I knew all of his quarterbacks, and being able to play for him in college is a dream come true.”

BRANDON DOUGHTY

How’s the start been? “We’ve been pressing a little bit as a team, but we’re going to make strides. These first couple days, people are a little nervous and overthinking things, but we’re going to get better.”

Petrino’s offense: “I kind of realized myself that you’ve got to do extra stuff in this offense and work hard with your craft and your technique.”

On Petrino: “He’s very particular about things and wants things ran a certain way, and you respect him for that. He wins everywhere he goes.”

JAMES MAURO

Starting practice: “It’s been good. It’s been a lot of learning. It’s been a little sloppy here or there, but that comes with a new offense and the first few days. We’re getting better and seeing improvement just from these first few days, so we’re looking forward to these next few weeks.”

Getting lots of early reps: “You can never get too many reps, but it’s not just the quarterbacks. It’s new for everybody. We can’t just say it’s hard for us when everybody’s dealing with the same thing.”

On Petrino: “I love to win, and I know that’s what he does. He finds ways to win. The offense he was bringing and the mentality kind of fit what I want to do, so I was very excited along with the rest of the team.”

More on Petrino: “He knows his stuff, man. They’re both really smart guys, so I’m just trying to learn from both of them every day.”

WKU’s Antonio Andrews, Xavius Boyd talk about first practice under Bobby Petrino

Also a few quick thoughts from WKU running back Antonio Andrews and linebacker Xavius Boyd on the first practice under Bobby Petrino:

ANTONIO ANDREWS

How did things go out there? “It was a pretty good day. The guys are starting to pick up on the playbook. We’re still playing together as a team. Everybody’s head’s on straight, even with a new coaching staff, so things turned out good.”

What’s the biggest adjustment? “The biggest thing is getting used to how coaches coach you, how they approach. Sometimes you’ve got a yelling coach, sometimes you’ve got a soft-spoken coach. And then the game play – practice tempo done picked up a lot, put it that way.”

How’s your relationship with coach Petrino? “The main coach I talk to is coach (Kolby) Smith. That’s our position coach. Coach Petrino is with the quarterbacks the majority of the team, so you don’t see him a lot, but when you do see him, he makes his presence known.”

XAVIUS BOYD

How was the first practice? “We’re going along good. Everybody’s just trying to get to know each other on a personal basis, as far as learning how they act, how they talk, how they coach you.”

How are players taking to coach Petrino? “We’re taking him real serious, I can tell you that.”

Has he talked to you all a lot about doing things the right way? “He really believes doing things right is going to get your far. So if you’re not doing things right in the classroom or your personal life, you really aren’t going to do things right on the field. You have to approach everything the right away.”

Bobby Petrino discusses first spring practice as Western Kentucky football coach

Bobby Petrino ran his first spring practice as WKU’s football coach on Friday and exactly one reporter was there for the post-practice news conference – yours truly. Guess that makes it more of a chat than a news conference.

In all seriousness, it’s a busy time with the hoops Hilltoppers in action vs. Kansas tonight, and the lack of attendance was expected – a “lonely day,” as Petrino put it.

Here are Petrino’s thoughts on WKU’s first practice and his first practice as a head coach in nearly a year:

BOBBY PETRINO, WKU football coach

How was it for a first day? “It was fun to be out on the field and get our first practice in. We threw a lot at them. We had a good week of install, so we were able to go out and throw a lot at them. You could see who had experience and who didn’t. That secondary and linebackers, picking things up and going fast. Defensive line has a ways to go, just learning and understanding the tempo.”

What did you see today? “I’m impressed with our offense line and tight ends. That’s a really good group, our running backs is a good group, and it’s going to be fun to see how it all plays out at quarterback and wide receiver. We throw a lot of balls in practice. They get a lot of work, which I think is probably new to a lot of them. I was impressed with their effort, and everyone tried hard.”

Do you think it’s best to just throw them into the fire? “That’s always kind of been our philosophy. We try to put a lot in the first seven days, and then we come back and re-install. Then we come back in the fall and do it again, so teach everything three times, and then it’s up to us as a coaching staff to understand what our players can do well, what our quarterback can execute and build our offense and defense around our players.”

After all of the media interviews and attention, how nice was it to coach some football? “I had a lot of fun and really enjoyed it. I was impressed with our coaching staff. I thought they did an excellent job in the preparation for the practice. I liked their energy and intensity. I had fun. It was really enjoyable.”

Stressing attention to detail: “The key to our success in the past has been that the players have bought into attention to detail, technique and fundamentals. They have to understand that how you do that makes the scheme work. It’s not any magical schemes out there. It’s how well we get in a stance and use our technique. I like our team and how they’ve bought into it.”

What did you see from the three quarterbacks today? “Well, they all have a lot to learn. They really do. They’ve got to really understand the difference in the passing game, the timing, the rhythm of it. I thought they all kind of pressed a little bit and were hurrying their drops. They just have to learn to be consistent, trust their teammates and understand it’s all about timing. … There’s a lot of ability there. Guys that can learn quick, and they all have leadership qualities.”

Do you think they were pressing because they were trying to make a good first impression with you? “My philosophy has always been, ‘Let’s put a lot of pressure on them in practice and really get after the quarterbacks in practice.’ We want to make the games the easy part. We expect them to perform well in practice. It’s not OK to make a mistake, and we like to put a lot of pressure on the quarterbacks in practice, and then it’ll pay off on Saturday.”

Anyone else stand out to you? “Antonio Andrews is a special player, and I thought he did a really nice job. He’s been a pleasure to coach because he’s so coachable. I thought Jonathan Dowling is doing a nice job on the back end and working hard at getting better every day. It’s nice to see the older guys really buy into it and have great attitudes.”

Postgame: WKU rallies for overtime win in WNIT opener

The Western Kentucky women’s basketball team rallied from a 10-point second-half deficit and a seven-point deficit with two minutes to play, beating East Carolina 88-77 in overtime Thursday in the first round of the Women’s NIT at E.A. Diddle Arena.

The Lady Toppers (22-10) advance to play at 2 p.m. CDT Sunday at Auburn in the tournament’s second round.

The win was WKU’s first postseason victory since 2007, when it beat Hofstra to reach the WNIT semifinals. The program had lost three straight postseason games since.

Here are postgame comments from WKU coach Michelle Clark-Heard, junior Bianca McGee and sophomores Alexis Govan and Chastity Gooch:

MICHELLE CLARK-HEARD, coach

Opening thoughts: “This team continues to keep amazing me. We never gave up. I’m so proud of them to keep fighting. We came out and didn’t have a good start to the second half, but I was proud of our team because we guarded.”

On forcing overtime: “When they came to the bench, I knew they were ready to take it over. That’s what they were talking about, and that’s when you know kids want to win.”

On Govan’s late play: “Alexis wants to win. She’s a competitor and wants to win, and I told her, ‘Just calm down a little bit, and we’ll get you in a great position for you to get a shot or get it to someone else.'”

ECU’s Stewart: “She continued to make big shots … but we contained a lot of the other ones, besides the offensive rebounding. Sometimes you’ve got to pick your poison.”

First postseason win since 2007: “It’s huge, it really is. To be able to get back here at home, and for the fans to be able to see that – that quote we talked about early – ‘On the Rise’ – we’re trying to keep growing this program and get it back where it needs to, and today was a big part of that.”

Leaving fans happy: “We wanted to make sure that we left the fans hungry and if this was the last time we played here, that they would be ready for next season and couldn’t wait. That was a thriller right there, so I know people will be excited.”

Winning in front of Louisville coach Jeff Walz: “It meant a lot. When you work with someone for so long, we’re all like family. That was a big deal for me.”

Preparing for Auburn: “We’re going to have to get ready quick and get film. We’re going to have to do a lot of different change-ups defensively, but I’m really excited. We’ll be ready to go.”

On Auburn: “(Tyrese Tanner is) really athletic and can score, and they’ve got some post kids, too. We’re going to have to get a good game plan together and get our kids excited. I know they are.”

Playing at SEC opponent: “It’s a big opportunity for this program. To be able to play them on their home floor just puts us in a great position for the future. When we go on the road next year and play different people, this will be a good test for us.”

ALEXIS GOVAN, sophomore guard

Opening thoughts: “We came out with a lot of energy. We lost it a little at the end of the first half, and they came out and punched us in the face a little bit. Something in us took over, and we were not going to lose that game.”

On this season after 9-21 campaign: “Once we started rolling, I knew this team was special. Our freshmen aren’t freshmen. Our sophomores aren’t sophomores. Our juniors might as well be seniors, and the way we play for each other and how passionate we are.”

Playing at Auburn: “It’s huge. It’s another opportunity for us. It’s up to us if we take advantage of it or not. I know the coaching staff’s probably already in the office studying film, and we’re going to come in and work hard, be coachable and do whatever we can and fight it out when we get there.”

BIANCA MCGEE, junior guard

Overtime period: “After Alexis hit that 3 to send us to overtime, we just had our juice. We came out like we weren’t going to lose. We weren’t going to leave the gym with an ‘L.'”

Getting postseason bid: “Coach was confident we were going to keep playing. They had the plan for practice all week. We were fighting and going at each other. We were excited to get in, and she believed in us the whole time.”

CHASTITY GOOCH, sophomore forward

Getting postseason win: “It means a lot. I feel like we made a statement tonight. We played hard, and it means a lot to us.”

Louisville coach Jeff Walz discusses Michelle Clark-Heard, renewing series with WKU next season

I talked for a few minutes tonight with Louisville women’s basketball coach Jeff Walz, who was at WKU’s WNIT home game against East Carolina.

Walz talked about the job done by Michelle Clark-Heard, his former assistant and good friend, as well as the teams renewing their series next season. Louisville will come to Diddle Arena next year to start.

Here’s what Walz had to say:

JEFF WALZ, Louisville coach

Talk about what Michelle has done in her first year: “It’s really impressive. I just hope everybody in Bowling Green really understands what she’s done. Coming in here with 21 wins and re-energizing everything, it’s exciting to see. And there’s no doubt she’ll continue to recruit and get players. It’s a nice turnout tonight, and hopefully the crowd will continue to come and get it back to how it was when Paul (Sanderford) was here and Michelle played.”

Is Michelle’s player development with Govan and Gooch something you could’ve anticipated? “Michelle’s always been really good on the floor, working with the players, and she’s got a great staff. You’ve got to have people you can count on, and you have to have players that will buy in and put the work in. But all of them can see what a little hard work does and take that from someone with a lot of passion.”

Styles being similar: “We both got most of our basketball stuff from Paul. There’s going to be a lot of similarities, but it’s really neat because I enjoy seeing how hard they’re playing.”

Renewing series and starting at Diddle: “With Michelle and I being such good friends, it’s something she thinks can really help her program, and they’ll come to our place the following year. They’re a good basketball, and they’ll be even better next year. We’re going to have our hands full. It’s a game I put on the schedule knowing that we’re going to have to come play. It’s not just a ‘show up and you win.'”