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.”

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