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:
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.”