Heard, Jones talk Lady Tops’ second exhibition against Glenville State

The Western Kentucky women’s basketball team will face a greater test in Sunday’s second exhibition game against Glenville State.

Glenville shot 41 3-pointers last night in a 122-77 loss to No. 2 Duke and grabbed 25 offensive rebounds.

The Lady Tops started their season with an 87-49 exhibition win over Kentucky Wesleyan on Tuesday.

Coach Michelle Clark-Heard and sophomore guard Micah Jones talked with reporters today to take a look back at KWC and preview the Glenville State game. Here are their comments:

MICHELLE CLARK-HEARD

What did you see on the film from the Kentucky Wesleyan game? “I think the biggest thing is we’ve got to work on some defensive stuff – defensive transition, rebounding. I think we did a lot of good things, though. Being able to push the ball, getting some points in transition. But we’ve got to focus a lot defensively.”

Playing Glenville State: “It’s going to be a big, big challenge for us. They shot 41 3s in the game, and they grabbed 25 offensive rebounds over the No. 2 team in the nation. They run their system, five in and five out, they shoot a lot of 3s and get up and down the floor. We’ll have to communicate and guard, and we’ll have to rebound. It’s going to be a totally different game than what we played against Kentucky Wesleyan, and I think it’ll be good for us because if you all remember, that’s kind of how Troy plays.”

More on Glenville: “There’s going to be long rebounds, and they’re taught to go after the rebounds, so if we don’t box out, they’re going to get the rebound and try to kick it out. They’re going to get up their 3s. If that’s how they play, that’s how they play. The objective for us is to challenge shots and do the things we need to do.”

Continuing to find flow: “I think the continuity of the rotations and things will help out a lot. We’ve just got to continue to keep growing. I’m really excited. I think the girls were really excited.”

Play of freshman centers Ruta Savickaite and Bria Gaines: “Some people forget Ruta wasn’t here this summer. For where she’s at right now, we’re definitely pleasantly surprised and excited about her growth. With Bria, she’s coming along every day, conditioning-wise and getting in the flow of the game. Both of them, the more they play and the more they get minutes, the more they’ll get better and better.”

Play of JUCO guards Channel Lockhart and Jasmine Crawford: “The biggest thing was getting used to the flow of the game and being in front of a crowd. In junior college, you very seldom play in front of a packed house or more than 50 people sometimes. I think that was a difference. … I think they’ll be OK. They’ve been in the office, watching film and trying to get better, and that’s what it’s all about.”

MICAH JONES, sophomore guard

First exhibition game vs. KWC: “We haven’t really scrimmaged against anyone else, so that was really our first game to play with each other fully. It’s going to take time.”

Having more depth on this team: “I like it, because you can go 110 (percent) every time you get out there. You have a sub to come in, so you don’t have to save energy for the end of the game.”

Glenville State: “We mentioned it. I know they outrebounded Duke last night and shot a lot of 3s, so we’ll definitely have to come with a lot of energy and defend and go to the boards.”

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South Warren DL Middleton in frequent talks with UK’s Brown, who says Cats’ rocky season is ‘just the start’

South Warren defensive lineman Adrian Middleton, a Kentucky commit, talks every Thursday with UK offensive coordinator Neal Brown, he said. Brown and UK's staff have reassured the prospect the Wildcats' rocky season is "just the start." (Alex Slitz/Daily News)

South Warren defensive lineman Adrian Middleton, a Kentucky commit, talks every Thursday with UK offensive coordinator Neal Brown, he said. Brown and UK’s staff have reassured the prospect the Wildcats’ rocky season is “just the start.” (Alex Slitz/Daily News)

Things certainly haven’t been smooth for Kentucky in football coach Mark Stoops’ first season.

The Wildcats are 1-6 overall and 0-4 in the Southeastern Conference – their lone win a 41-7 victory over winless Miami (Ohio) – but Stoops and his staff have done their part to reassure future recruits, including South Warren’s Adrian Middleton.

The 6-foot-4-inch, 275-pound defensive lineman said he keeps in frequent contact with UK by mail and phone, particularly with offensive coordinator Neal Brown.

“Coach Brown calls me every Thursday, and we talk a little bit about what’s been happening,” Middleton said. “It’s good communication.”

Stoops reeled in the nation’s 29th best recruiting class in his first offseason, according to Rivals. His 2014 crop is currently ranked eighth by the recruiting outlet, and the key will be preserving the group through a rocky season.

“It’s just been about how they’re trying to build something, and that this is just the start,” Middleton said of his talks with Brown.

Middleton verbally committed to Kentucky in June. His other offers included Louisville, Western Kentucky, Missouri, Middle Tennessee and Indiana.

Middleton, who’s now rated a three-star recruit by Rivals and Scout, has been a key piece of a South Warren defense that has allowed 19 total points in nine games this year. The Spartans (8-1) are first in the state in scoring defense and rushing defense, and second in passing defense.

Middleton has 47 tackles – including 23 for loss with eight sacks – along with three forced fumbles and two fumble recoveries, including one for a touchdown.

“It’s fundamentals,” Middleton said. “Just relying on our teammates to make plays, playing hard and playing fast.”

 

Lady Tops talk after season-opening exhibition win over Kentucky Wesleyan

Western Kentucky’s Alexis Govan (21) shoots past Kentucky Wesleyan’s Karly Rhoads on Tuesday during their exhibition game at E.A. Diddle Arena. WKU won 87-49. (Alex Slitz/Daily News)

Western Kentucky’s Alexis Govan (21) shoots past Kentucky Wesleyan’s Karly Rhoads on Tuesday during their exhibition game at E.A. Diddle Arena. WKU won 87-49. (Alex Slitz/Daily News)

Two familiar faces led the way for the Western Kentucky women’s basketball team Tuesday night, as the Lady Toppers opened their season with an 87-49 exhibition win over Kentucky Wesleyan at E.A. Diddle Arena.

Junior standouts Chastity Gooch and Alexis Govan paced WKU with 20 points and 16 points, respectively, while 11 of 12 players in uniform scored for the Lady Tops, who shot 48.6 percent from the field.

Govan, who was named preseason Sun Belt Conference Player of the Year earlier in the day, was 6-for-12 from the field and added four rebounds, three steals and three assists in 23 minutes.

Gooch made 8 of 11 shots and pulled down 14 rebounds with two assists in 25 minutes. She finished second in the nation last season with 26 double-doubles.

Sophomore forward Jalynn McClain also had a double-double for WKU with 12 points and 10 rebounds, and senior guard Chaney Means chipped in five points, four steals and a game-high eight assists with no turnovers. Means also drew four charges in the first half.

Govan, Gooch, Means and sophomore guard Micah Jones started for the Lady Tops along with freshman center Ruta Savickaite, who filled the starting role occupied last year by guard Bianca McGee.

The senior McGee made four 3-pointers off the bench for 12 points. WKU recorded 23 assists to 18 turnovers, outrebounded Kentucky Wesleyan 45-29 and outscored the Panthers 50-16 in the paint.

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

MICHELLE CLARK-HEARD

How was it having a full team out there? “Little different. It was good. I knew this would be interesting for us, because we’d have to figure out different combinations and substitution patterns, but it’s awesome. To be able to have Ruta and Bria and sub them in and out and get them some quality the minutes, and the same with all the newcomers. At times, the newcomers did some good things. That was good for us to see because now we’ve got to continue to get better. They got that first game under their belt, and we’re looking forward to moving on.”

Overall performance: “I’m looking forward to going back and watching the film, because as the game goes on, you see certain things. I’m looking forward to seeing those things so we can figure out the things we have to work on to get better.”

What went into Bianca McGee not starting, freshman center Ruta Savickaite starting in her place? “I’ve got a 6-3 and a 6-4. I’m just being honest. Last year, we were undersized, and … Ruta’s been playing well. It’s nothing that did Bianca did or hasn’t done, but it goes back to us having 12 players now that dress. You have to make some decisions as a staff, and we felt that was the best lineup.”

On WKU’s 18 turnovers: “That’s very high for me. That was one of the things at halftime that we discussed. We had 11 or 10 at halftime, and they weren’t even pressing us. Some of the careless mistakes – and a lot of that is still our players getting used to each other. Ruta can’t catch the ball like Chastity can catch the ball. The players are still learning each other, but that’s definitely not an excuse.”

Being dominant in the post: “It’s exciting. … if we don’t give Ruta and Bria – Jalynn McClain played incredible tonight. She’s gotten better and better, and she’s really worked on it. If we don’t give them the opportunity to have minutes, when it comes time for tournament or Sun Belt, they’re not going to be ready.”

Play of Chaney Means: “The girls and team, they feed off Chaney. Chaney has done incredible. She’s in that senior role now, where she’s leading just like she did last year. I say this all the time, but she’s our X-factor. Her taking those charges brought some energy to us in the first half. That’s what I talked to the young ladies on the bench about – where was everybody else’s energy compared to Chaney’s?”

 

ALEXIS GOVAN, junior guard

What was it like playing with a full roster? “It was fun. We all got a chance to watch the game and cheer for our teammates and see what’s happening and take it in like everybody else does, instead of being on the court, being like, ‘When am I going to get some water? I’m tired.’ We gave it our all and got to come out and cheer our teammates on.”

On turnovers: “We’ve just got to settle down in our offense. I think a lot of it came from we were speeding ourselves up and getting a little out of sync, but if we slow down and get to where we need to be, we’ll be fine.”

What do you all need to work on? “(Means says ‘turnovers’). (Gooch says ‘defense.’). Yeah, getting in the gap, getting help, rotating over, some people other than Chaney taking some charges.”

CHASTITY GOOCH, junior forward

Playing with more people on roster: “It was really different. Like (Alexis) was saying pretty much, half of the time we’ll be tired, but this time we could go as hard as we could, and we knew we had subs coming in for us.”

Playing of sophomore forward Jalynn McClain: “Jalynn’s matured a lot. I feel like she’s stepped up to the plate. This is her second year here, and she’s learned a lot.”

CHANEY MEANS, senior guard

Taking charges, making hustle plays: “I guess that’s kind of like my job. These girls do their thing on the offensive end and defensive end, but I’m just kind of the energizer, I guess. I try to do it that way.”

 

Govan named preseason SBC Player of the Year; Lady Tops projected 2nd behind Arkansas-Little Rock

Western Kentucky junior guard Alexis Govan speaks to reporters Thursday at the team's media day. Govan was named the preseason Sun Belt Conference Player of the Year today. (Joshua Lindsey/Daily News)

Western Kentucky junior guard Alexis Govan speaks to reporters Thursday at the team’s media day. Govan was named the preseason Sun Belt Conference Player of the Year today. (Joshua Lindsey/Daily News)

Western Kentucky junior guard Alexis Govan has been named the preseason Sun Belt Conference Player of the Year, the league announced today.

Govan was one of three Lady Toppers honored by the conference coaches, and WKU was projected to finish second in the Sun Belt behind favorite Arkansas-Little Rock.

The Lady Tops received four first-place votes and finished three points behind UALR. Arkansas State was third.

Govan, who averaged 20.3 points per game as a sophomore, is WKU’s first preseason player of the year since Dominique Duck earned the nod in 2008-09.

“I am very excited about Alexis Govan being named the preseason player of the year in the conference,” coach Michelle Clark-Heard said in a statement. “She was really deserving of this honor after the season she had last year. All the hard work she has put in over the last year has really paid off in being recognized by the league coaches as the preseason player of the year.

“The improvement she has made in her game is impressive and she has separated herself from the pack as an elite player nationally, deserving of this and many more honors to come.”

In addition, Govan and junior forward Chastity Gooch were named to the all-conference first team, and senior guard Bianca McGee was named a third-team selection. The other first-team picks were UALR’s Taylor Ford and Taylor Gault, and Arkansas State’s Jane Morrill.

Gooch averaged 16.1 points and 11.3 rebounds per game as a sophomore, finished second in the nation with 26 double-doubles and won the Sun Belt’s defensive player of the year award. McGee averaged 12.5 points last year in 24 games, including 20 starts.

The Lady Tops open their season at 7 p.m. today with a home exhibition game against Kentucky Wesleyan at E.A. Diddle Arena.

2013-14 Sun Belt Conference Women’s Basketball Coaches Preseason Poll

(First-place votes)

1. Arkanasas-Little Rock (6) – 95 points

2. WKU (4) – 92 points

3. Arkansas State – 82 points

4. Troy – 52 points

t5. South Alabama – 46 points

t5. Louisiana-Monroe – 46 points

7. Louisiana-Lafayette – 43 points

8. Georgia State – 41 points

9. Texas State – 39 points

10. Texas Arlington – 14 points

Sun Belt Women’s Basketball Preseason All-Conference First Team

Taylor Ford (UALR, Sr., G)

Taylor Gault (UALR, Jr., G)

Chastity Gooch (WKU, Jr., F)

Alexis Govan (WKU, Jr., G/F)

Jane Morrill (Arkansas State, Sr., F)

Sun Belt Women’s Basketball Preseason All-Conference Second Team

Ashley Ezeh (Texas State, Sr., C)

Joanna Harden (Troy, Sr., G)

Ronneka Robertson (South Alabama, Sr., F)

Ashleigh Simmons (UL-Monroe, Sr., F)

Keke Veal (UL-Lafayette, So., G)

Sun Belt Women’s Basketball Preseason All-Conference Third Team

Ashley Beverly-Kelley (Troy, So., G)

Kendra Long (Georgia State, Sr., G)

Bianca McGee (WKU, Sr., G)

Jalen O’Bannon (Arkansas State, So., F)

Alexar Tugler (UL-Monroe, Sr., G)

Sun Belt Conference Women’s Basketball Preseason Player of the Year

Alexis Govan (WKU, Jr., G/F)

Lady Toppers discuss upcoming basketball season

I talked with several women’s players during WKU’s basketball media day Thursday, and there are a lot of quotes. A lot.

Instead of posting everything here, I figured I would post one quote from each of the six Lady Toppers interviewed Thursday. You’ll see plenty of their thoughts on the upcoming season in the Daily News over the next couple of weeks.

Michelle Clark-Heard’s full comments from media day are available here:

 

ALEXIS GOVAN, junior guard

On campaign by WKU and Robert Sampson of media relations to promote Govan and junior forward Chastity Gooch as All-America candidates:

“I always tell (Sampson) that Chas is an All-American, and my teammates are the best. I hate when he does that stuff for me because I really think it’s about my team. We’ve got some talent this year.”

CHANEY MEANS, senior guard

On difference from this time last year to this time this year:

“There was a lot of uncertainty. We didn’t know what we had going on and not a lot of people who played minutes, so this year there’s a lot more experience and people with confidence.”

 

MICAH JONES, sophomore guard

On play of Alexis Govan and Chastity Gooch:

“Their numbers speak for themselves. They work hard in practice, they’re great leaders and everybody looks up to them and tries to follow in their footsteps.”

BIANCA MCGEE, senior guard

On her goals for this season:

“I want to help lead the team to the championship. Nothing specific, but I just want to be here and do whatever the coaches need me to do. Whatever’s going to help us get that championship is what I’m focused on.”

KIERRA MUHAMMAD, freshman guard

On adjusting to Lady Tops’ uptempo style of play:

“It was harder than I thought it would be. It’s similar to how we played in high school, but it’s at a whole other level. My body’s getting conditioned to it, but they expect a little more than I thought they would.”

CHASTITY GOOCH, junior forward

On what’s the next step for her and Govan:

“To get better. We have to go even higher from here.”

WKU coach Michelle Clark-Heard talks at Lady Toppers’ media day

Western Kentucky hosted its basketball media day Thursday, with Lady Topper coach Michelle Clark-Heard and all players available.

Heard addressed the media crowd at the podium, and I had the chance to speak individually with players Alexis Govan, Chastity Gooch, Chaney Means, Micah Jones, Kierra Muhammad and Bianca McGee.

Here are Heard’s comments:

MICHELLE CLARK-HEARD

Meaning of “Climbing the Ladder” mantra, beyond literal meaning of climbing net to cut down nets: “The rest of it was about getting the program back to where it’s always been, in the national prominence.”

This year’s expectations: “Expectations will come, and that’s what it’s about. As a student-athlete and as a coach, that’s what you want. You want to have the expectations of putting ourselves in a position to get better.”

“We’re just working to get better, each and every day. I think our biggest thing is trying to make sure that every player is getting as much attention as they need to get to be the best they can be. We have to keep jelling as a whole.”

“I think the overall improvement has been the growth of the newcomers coming in, and the returners teaching them the different things they need to, but also the returners being more familiar with the coaching staff and myself.”

Which newcomers have stood out? “I look across the board, and of course, Ruta and Bria have been getting better, but they’ve got a ways to go. When we went out last year and recruited, our whole job was to get better, to be able to bring some more speed, athletic ability and some big kids. I think that’s what we did.”

Having more players this year: “I tell our team every day that there’s going to be situations that everyone is going to be needed on this team. I’m looking forward to all of them being able to contribute.”

Getting back to the NCAA tournament: “That’s our ultimate goal. And not just to get in the NCAA, it’s to get in and be able to win some games. I think that’s all about. You want to get our program to that height, because if you can get to the NCAA, there’s no telling what can happen.”

Landscape of Sun Belt this year, including losing MTSU and FIU: “I think there’s a lot of conferences that took hits – not just the Sun Belt. But you have to prepare yourself to do the things each and every day. We have to focus on us. … We still have Little Rock. I’m telling you, there’s people in this conference that are going to make a lot of noise.”

Next step for Govan and Gooch: “The numbers that they put up last year were incredible, but the next step for them is to continue to get better. What I’ve tried to do is challenge them in different ways. My biggest thing for Alexis is to continue to get better defensively because she’s so athletic. I think she can add a lot to her game. She shot the ball unbelievable last year – 46 percent, I think, from the field. That is unheard of at the guard position.”

More on Gooch: “I want her to keep growing her game. She has to understand and know she’s such a force on the inside, that I want her to continue what she’s doing. It’ll help that we have more manpower. They won’t have to play 32 minutes. That’s not the goal. That’s the thing – to be more productive in a less amount of minutes.”

Seniors McGee and Means: “They’ve been doing a great job of leading the younger group and the newcomers. I think their vision is for them to go out on top.”

On freshman center Ruta Savickaite: “She’s a typical international player. She loves to face up. She loves to shoot the basketball. We’ve got to get her stronger, but each and every day, she’s battling Chastity and Bria. I think the sky’s the limit for her.”

Looking forward to the Louisville game: “Louisville, that’s a big game, but the game I’m looking forward to is the first game, when it tips up against Austin Peay. We’re going to take it game by game. Every game is going to be important for us. We’re not looking down our schedule.”

On Kendall Noble’s recovery from injury: “She’s coming along. She’s working with the trainers on the side, so she’s doing good. We’re taking it day by day and seeing what the prognosis is. She’s in good spirits.”

More depth, better competition: “Competition is a great thing. I told the returners that they got a little spoiled last year, because there were some situations where they had to be on the floor even if they weren’t doing the right things all the time.”

Do Lady Tops think they have a target on their backs? “Of course. I think any coach would love to have the opportunity to be in the position we are as a program. It is different, and it’s going to be very interesting. Our job as a staff is to prepare our players to know this is a big difference from where we were last year.”

Warren East 2015 linebacker Brown decommits from Vanderbilt

Warren East junior linebacker/running back Eli Brown

Warren East junior linebacker/running back Eli Brown

UPDATE: 12:20 p.m. Friday — Brown has confirmed to the Daily News reports that he made an unofficial visit to Ohio State last weekend to watch the Buckeyes defeat Iowa. On Monday, he tweeted, “Still thinking about the visit to Ohio State!!!”

Warren East junior linebacker/running back Eli Brown has decommitted from Vanderbilt, WEHS athletic director Jonathan Vincent told the Daily News on Thursday.

The official word came from Brown, who requested that his decision be made known.

The 6-foot-2-inch, 192-pound Brown verbally committed to Vanderbilt in June. At the time, he also had scholarship offers from Kentucky, Ohio State and Western Kentucky. He also reported interest from Louisville, Florida, Cincinnati and Indiana.

Brown has 48 tackles through eight games for Warren East (4-4), along with 1,033 rushing yards and 12 touchdowns on 125 carries.

He’s rated a four-star recruit by Rivals.com and is among the site’s Top 250 prospects to watch in the 2015 class.

In August, Brown told the Daily News he had become ready to commit to Vanderbilt and coach James Franklin after a “draining” spring recruitment period. He had six coaches visit during one school day in April, he said.

“It was overwhelming,” Brown said in August. “I was getting tired, coming out of class and missing classwork, so I was like, ‘I can’t do this.’ Last year, it was kind of draining. I didn’t want to go through all that during my junior and senior year. I wanted to give it all to my team.”

Brown will apparently start looking at his options again this weekend. He confirmed on Twitter that he will visit WKU on Saturday for the Hilltoppers’ homecoming game against Troy with Bowling Green HIgh School senior receiver Nacarius Fant, a Tops commit.