I sat down with Western Kentucky women’s basketball coach Michelle Clark-Heard today, two days after her Lady Toppers fell 74-54 to Arkansas-Little Rock in the semifinals of the Sun Belt Conference Tournament.
WKU is playing the waiting game for now. It’ll find out whether or not it’ll earn a bit to the WNIT tournament Monday, when the field is released late that night after the NCAA tournament selection process.
Heard talked about the WNIT, preparation for this week and the KHSAA Girls’ Sweet 16, which begins Wednesday at E.A. Diddle Arena.
Do you think you all will be in the WNIT? “I feel like with the product that we put together this season, I think we should have a for-sure shot to get in. But I’m not on the committee. I can’t say that for sure. I don’t know how other things may fall with other people losing in their conference, but I hope it happens for us. We’re going to continue to think that way.”
What would the players take away from a WNIT berth? “The postseason is about having another season, but also preparing for the future. That’s what it would be for us, to be able to practice some more and get some more games under our belt.”
You talked a lot Sunday about UALR being ‘bigger, faster and stronger.’ Is that something you think your team needs to become? “This league is very athletic, and a lot of people don’t realize that. Very guard-oriented league, with guards that can put it on the floor and guards that can shoot it. When I got here, the first thing everybody told me was that Little Rock is the best defensive team in the league. I knew that, and I saw their rotation and how they guard. But the biggest thing for them is their guards’ ability to utilize their strength.”
What do you have in your signing class, and what skills do you still need? “We needed size. But we’re going to have to address that and keep getting more athletic, especially on the perimeter.”
Do you plan to fill your vacant scholarship this spring? “I have one left, and I’m looking to possibly get a JUCO kid. We’re in the mix for a couple kids, and I feel really strong with one of them. If so, I think that’ll add to what we’re talking about – defensively and giving the other team someone else they’d have to key on.”
What’s the plan for this week? “We played a lot of basketball with a limited number of players. We’re fortunate this is spring break for the university, so I’m letting our kids off until Friday. On Saturday, we’ll get back in here and go to work. With the way it works out, you could play Wednesday in the NIT, and I think that gives us plenty of time and preparation. Mentally, our kids need that break right now.”
(After confirming she and her staff will be at Girls’ Sweet 16): Talk about the opportunity of having the state tournament in your own building: “My whole career, I’ve always come to this tournament, no matter where I’ve been. To be right here now, and to build the brand for what we’re working toward is awesome. I’ll be able to talk to a lot of high school coaches. It’s huge for us to have all that right here.”
You’re likely to get some attention after leading such a big turnaround. Do you have a comment on that? “I’m happy here and I want to be here. I’m not even thinking about anything like that. I’ve said before this is my dream job. I think we can win big here. The sky is the limit for this program. The potential is there, because we’ve done it before.”