Louisville coach Jeff Walz, WKU’s Chastity Gooch and Alexis Govan after Lady Tops’ 74-61 loss to No. 4 Cardinals

More from WKU’s 74-61 loss to No. 4 Louisville at Diddle Arena, with Cardinals coach Jeff Walz and WKU players Chastity Gooch and Alexis Govan.

JEFF WALZ

On Louisville’s turnovers: “We’re good at that. We can turn the ball over with the best of them. We can come up with new ways – some I haven’t seen before. We definitely can make a basketball game very interesting.”

On WKU’s big run: “I knew Michelle would have her kids excited and play hard. For us, we’re in a situation right now where I’m still looking at rotations, trying to figure out what’s going to be our best scenario. We got off to a really good start, which we had not been doing, and then I made some substitutions, which was probably a bad decision on my part. We’ve got it 18-2 and then we give up back-to-back 3s to a kid we knew was a 3-point shooter. And then all of a sudden, it’s 22-8 and we don’t defend worth a lick, and we don’t execute at the offensive end. … At the same time, Michelle and her team deserve a lot of the credit for how hard they played and competed.”

On what he told Heard: “Her kids played hard. She did a great job preparing them. I thought the crowd was great. It was exciting. They got loud. She’s going to continue to build this and continue to do well, and it’s going to be a fun series to play.”

On extending series after initial two games: “Michelle and I will sit down this summer after the season’s over and talk about trying to continue it. Maybe we can find some new officials. Holy shit. I’m not saying they did bad. I’m just saying there might be some better ones available. I’ll get in trouble if I criticize them. I’m not criticizing them. Like some people think I don’t dress well. There are other options.”

Emotions of playing Heard during game: “I didn’t even think about it. You ask Michelle, she probably didn’t think about it either. You’re out there playing. You’re focused on your own team and trying to get better.”

CHASTITY GOOCH

Fighting back: “It says a lot. We fought really hard this game.”

Crowd of 3,725: “Tonight was very exciting. We had a lot of energy, thanks to the crowd. We would love to see that more often.”

ALEXIS GOVAN

Falling behind 18-2: “Coach Heard called that timeout and got us together and said, ‘Take a deep breath.’ Everybody looked at each other, took a deep breath and stepped out on the court and started all over.”

Dealing with Louisville’s press: “I think at first, it was more of us. We were really amped up, really excited. We just wanted to make it all happen at once – make the pass, make the shot to win the game. We just had to look at the press, calm down and realize we run the same press.”

On Gooch: “She took over. She got in the paint and dominated. She grabbed all the rebounds she could, finished, took people with her when she finished, got to the free-throw line, made free throws, which was big.”

On performing for crowd: “I think we gave them a show. Hopefully they see this game and want to come back for me. Hopefully we come back from break and get some students in here, too, and we can get Diddle jumping. That’s the goal.”

On fighting back: “We fought as hard as we could and as long as we could. We didn’t step back, and we didn’t cower down. They’re a good team, and we could’ve folded, like coach Heard kept telling us. We fought to the end.”

Michelle Clark-Heard after 74-61 loss to No. 4 Louisville at E.A. Diddle Arena

The Western Kentucky women’s basketball team didn’t succumb to Louisville’s first knockout blow.

The Lady Toppers (4-2) made a game of it against the No. 4 Cardinals after a nightmare start, but they couldn’t withstand Louisville’s second-half surge in a 74-61 loss Wednesday in front of 3,725 fans at E.A. Diddle Arena.

WKU fell behind 18-2 to start the game but trailed by just five at halftime. The Lady Toppers started the second half 1 of 11 from the field, however, and Louisville (7-0) made 11 of its first 14 attempts after the break to pull away.

The game was WKU’s first against Louisville, last year’s national runner-up, since 2007. The Cardinals are coached by former WKU assistant Jeff Walz, and Lady Topper coach Michelle Clark-Heard spent five seasons at U of L as an assistant before taking the reins on the Hill.

Wednesday’s game was also the Lady Tops’ first at home against a top-five opponent since hosting No. 4 Vanderbilt in 2001. They haven’t defeated a top-five team since 1998 or any ranked opponent since 2004.

Here are Heard’s comments after the game. More coming in a bit from WKU’s Alexis Govan and Chastity Gooch, as well as Louisville coach Jeff Walz:

MICHELLE CLARK-HEARD

Opening thoughts: “I’m super proud of our team. I had to call a timeout and get them in the huddle and talk to them about what we talked about in the locker room, about poise. That’s a great team. Louisville’s a great team, and when they jump on you like that and are making everything, we could have went under, but we didn’t. We kept fighting. It was like there was a lid on the basket until one of them went in.”

Playing against Walz, Louisville: “I think it’s bittersweet. There were a couple of times we cut it to three … and I was excited to see that many people in the stands. I hope we can continue to keep getting better and people continue to come out and support this team. If tonight didn’t prove to people that we have a chance to be pretty good, I don’t know what will.”

What did Walz say after the game? “He said the team played really, really hard. He said he was really proud of how hard they played and the game plan.”

Forcing Louisville into turnovers: “We’re creatures of habit. Jeff and I came from the same cloth. I knew he was going to do a lot of different change-ups on us, so that was our plan. We executed it to a tee. They kept us in the ballgame. They got us back in, and we stayed with it. I’m one of those coaches, that if something keep working, stick with it until it doesn’t work anymore.”

Play of Chastity Gooch: “She was huge. I think at first, she was like all the girls. I think they were a little nervous. Not so nervous because it was Louisville, but because it was such a big game and the atmosphere. I pulled Chastity to the side and said, ‘Just do what you always do.’ Chastity is like that. She’s a gamer.”

Louisville’s press: “They’re all over the place, and their length is different. But I felt like when we had the opportunity to break the press, we did some good things in the halfcourt. We knew it was coming, and it’s hard to simulate anything like that.”

Coming back in front of large crowd: “I think it’s huge because I think it shows the fight and determination of this team. I try to put myself in the fans’ shoes – what they would like, and what they would want to see. I feel like if I was in the crowd today, I know I would’ve been excited about what I saw. … It could have went to a point where it got pretty ugly, and it looked that way at first. But I was proud of our girls that it didn’t turn into that.”

Play of Louisville’s Bria Smith: “Bria’s more of a driver, so we tried to play off of her. She gave it to us. She hit her pull-up jumpers every time. She shot it. She was a McDonald’s All-American, so she can play just like a lot of the other players on that team. It was a great team effort from them. They played well, and that’s why they’re No. 4 in the country.”

Edmonson County’s Madison Rich signs with Austin Peay

Edmonson County senior guard Madison Rich signs Tuesday with Austin Peay women's basketball. Rich averaged 22.9 points per game as a junior. (Submitted photo)

Edmonson County senior guard Madison Rich signs Tuesday with Austin Peay women’s basketball. Rich averaged 22.9 points per game as a junior. (Submitted photo)

Edmonson County senior guard Madison Rich signed a letter of intent Tuesday to play women’s basketball next season at Austin Peay.

Rich verbally committed to the Lady Govs in July. She also had some interest from Lipscomb and Transylvania, she said, but no other full offers.

“I went down there and visited once, and they offered me a full scholarship,” Rich said. “Right away, I knew I loved the coaches and loved the campus. … About a month ago, I went down and met all the girls. They were so nice, and I knew it was perfect for me.”

Austin Peay, which is coached by former Western Kentucky assistant Carrie Daniels, competes in the Ohio Valley Conference. The Lady Govs are 2-3 this season.

“Maddie is a true scorer,” Daniels said in a statement. “She can create off the dribble, shoot off the catch and has one of the prettiest shots we’ve seen. Maddie is probably one of the most hidden gems out there having not played AAU or travel ball, and we feel we hit the jackpot with her.”

Rich averaged 22.9 points and eight rebounds for Edmonson County last season. She shot 41.7 percent from the field and made 84.1 percent of 251 free-throw attempts.

The guard opened some eyes last year by scoring 47 points – including 18 of 19 free throws – in an 83-81, double-overtime loss to Meade County. The Lady Cats lost in the opening round of the Region 3 Tournament.

“We lost one senior last year,” Rich said. “That’ll hurt us a little bit, but with the practice so far, I think we’ve gotten back into it and we’ll have a really good season.”

Louisville coach Jeff Walz talks Wednesday’s game at WKU

I talked this afternoon with Louisville women’s basketball coach Jeff Walz before he brings his fourth-ranked Cardinals to E.A. Diddle Arena on Wednesday to face Western Kentucky.

A big thanks to Walz, who took some time to talk by phone while on the road and has always been very accessible and engaged since Michelle Clark-Heard took over at WKU, starting with the day she was hired.

Here are Walz’s comments:

JEFF WALZ

Renewing series with WKU: “It’s really an opportunity to get Western Kentucky back on the schedule. Michelle and I spent three or four years together at Nebraska, and obviously our time here at Louisville. She helped us get the program where it is now, and it’s great to see her and see the success she’s having. It’s no surprise. I think it’s good for the state. I think it’s good to have your in-state programs play each other, and I’m looking forward to keep it going.”

What do you see from WKU? “They play so hard, and that’s not a surprise. Michelle is going to demand that from her players. They compete, they’re very athletic. They’re going to cause us some problems. Our kids completely understand that we’re going to have to come to play. It’s not just a game where you walk out there, and it’s a win. I’m hoping and expecting for a great crowd. With what Michelle has done down there, I’m hoping the fans understand what she’s done in one season and continue to support that program, because they sure deserve it.”

Getting everyone’s best shot: “We really haven’t talked about it that much, and that could be part of the problem and my mistake. We don’t talk about rankings. We try to talk about ourselves and what we have to do to get better, but I think with that, at times I’m not sure our kids realize we’re ranked third and fourth, depending on which poll you look it. I don’t know they completely have the understanding we’re a big game for everybody. If somebody can knock you off, it’s a top-five win for that program.”

Impact of former WKU coach Paul Sanderford: “Paul was the first person that gave me a chance to get into coaching. I went down to Western in 1995 as a graduate assistant and planned on basically working for two years, getting my Master’s degree and getting back into high school coaching and teaching. My second year there, David Graves went down to Wofford to be the head coach. Paul moved me up into that spot and was there for a year until Paul took me with him to Nebraska. Without him giving me the opportunity, there’s no way I’d be where I am today. I’ll be forever grateful to him for that. He’s been a mentor and a great friend, and he’s someone I can call anytime I need to. He’s always been a great sounding board.”

Paul Sanderford, Chastity Gooch on WKU-Louisville matchup

Paul Sanderford seemed right at home at the podium Monday in the Diddle Arena media room.

The former Western Kentucky women’s basketball coach stopped by to discuss the Lady Tops’ game Wednesday against No. 4 Louisville, which pits two of his former coaching proteges – Michelle Clark-Heard and Jeff Walz – against each other. Sanderford will also be on the call for the ESPN3/WKU-PBS broadcast of the game.

Sanderford stole the show, offering up insight on the two coaches and the importance of WKU playing in-state powers. He also managed to get a playful dig in at Walz, pointing to his shirt with a sly grin and saying, “This isn’t a tablecloth. I want to make sure the people in Louisville know that. That’s an $85 shirt. Walz, even with his millions or whatever, he’s still wearing those $49, off-the-rack shirts.”

That’s a direct reference to this awesome banter last season between Walz and Connecticut coach Geno Auriemma.

But seriously, some good, honest stuff from Sanderford as always. There are also comments from WKU junior forward Chastity Gooch below:

PAUL SANDERFORD

On Jeff Walz: “I was in New Orleans for the Final Four last year, and I’ve been up several times to see coach Walz’s team in action. I’m very proud of what he’s done at Louisville. The thing that amazes me is that he’s done this in an era when Louisville’s been so good in everything.”

On Michelle Clark-Heard: “I think Michelle has done an excellent job here. She’s really trying to rebuild the program the right way. She’s trying to get good players, good people. They’re playing extremely hard.”

On playing top program like Louisville: “I think that helps our fans identify with the Toppers and really helps Michelle in her recruiting battle. The game will be televised, and that’s going to help. But you have to compete. It’s a two-edged sword. If you get blown out by 30, how much does that help. It’s a tough order, but you’ve got to start somewhere, and I think that’s a good place to start.”

Needing to play top in-state teams: “I think it’s mandatory that you play the best in the country, and it starts with playing the best in your state. I hope coach Heard can get the series started again with UK. I know they beat UK last time they were in here, and that series sort of stopped all of a sudden. Again, I think playing the best in your state and the best in the country is how you build a program. I think it’s imperative that WKU do that in all sports as much as possible.”

What did you see in Walz and Heard early on? “Both of them have very good work ethics. Both of them stayed in the office above and beyond the call of duty. Both of them are students of the game. They were always offering advice and trying to find a way to win a game. To me, I thought that was the mark of good coaches and good people. They were both concerned about players and players’ welfare. They thought I was too tough sometimes on the players, and they took up for the players an awful lot. That’s what you have to do when you’re an assistant. Both of them had bright futures. The fact that they’re so successful doesn’t surprise me. The fact that they’re this successful so early in their careers puts a big smile on my face.”

CHASTITY GOOCH

Playing Louisville: “I feel like this is a huge opportunity for us. I feel like this game should tell us where we stand. It’s very exciting. How many tems can say they get to play a No. 4 team in the country?

Handling Cardinals’ pressure: “We just have to talk to one another. We have to calm each other down. If we see someone kind of getting out of control, we’ve got to tell that person it’s OK and just take care of the ball.”

 

Michelle Clark-Heard talks Lady Tops’ game Wednesday against No. 4 Louisville

The premier game on the Western Kentucky women’s basketball team’s schedule has arrived. The Lady Toppers host No. 4 Louisville at 7 p.m. Wednesday at E.A. Diddle Arena.

There are connections all over the place. WKU coach Michelle Clark-Heard was an assistant at Louisville for five seasons before taking over the Lady Tops. Louisville coach Jeff Walz got his start as an assistant to coach Paul Sanderford at WKU. Both were assistants to Sanderford at Nebraska.

WKU assistant Candyce Bingham was a player and grad assistant at Louisville, and Lady Tops assistants Margaret Richards and Greg Collins have also worked on the Cardinals’ staff.

Needless to say, there’s a lot of emotion in this game beyond the fact that it’s the biggest home game the Lady Toppers have hosted in quite some time. It’s the first time they’ve hosted a top-five team since welcoming No. 4 Vanderbilt on Nov. 21, 2001.

Here’s what Heard had to say about it. Quotes from Sanderford and junior forward Chastity Gooch will follow:

MICHELLE CLARK-HEARD

On Louisville: “They’re averaging 90 points a game. They’ve got different people who can score in a variety of ways. They have four or five players in double figures. We’re going to focus on them, of course, but I think the biggest thing we’re going to have to do is focus on us as a team. We’ll have to take care of the basketball. They’re going to do a lot of different things. That’s just how Jeff coaches. They’re going to trap, and as a team, we’ll have to be poised enough and confident enough to take care of the basketball. And we’ll have to make shots and rebound. Lot of challenges, but that’s why he’s No. 4 in the country. He’s very deep and has a lot of players who can play multiple positions.”

Renewing series with Louisville: “I think it’s awesome. We tried numerous times, but I guess the scheduling didn’t work out while I was at Louisville. It’s awesome for the state. It’s awesome for us. It’s a great opportunity because what we’re trying to do is get back to the caliber where everyone, when they think of Lady Topper basketball, they think of one of the top teams not only in Kentucky, but in the country.”

Beating Northern Kentucky on Saturday: “It’s not easy to win on the road. You hit some adversity in different situations. I’m proud of our group as we continue to grow.”

What Walz has meant to her: “Jeff is an awesome person. Very fortunate that I had the chance to not only work with him at Louisville, but also at Nebraska. He has ties here, too, with (sister and former Lady Topper) Jaime (Walz Richey). That’s sort of a second family. He’s like a brother to me. I know it’ll be an emotional time for both of us, but I think it’ll be an awesome time. Jeff has worked really, really hard to get where he’s at. He does an amazing job recruiting and with the kids. He gave me the opportunity to go from Division II back to Division I and coach at the BCS level, and I think that helped me polish my skills to be in the position I’m in today.”

Both learning from Sanderford: “He’s very fortunate that he had coach Sanderford as a mentor. I’m very fortunate that I had him as a coach and as a mentor. He’s been everything to me.”

How do you upset the Cards? “We have to take care of the basketball. I think we’ll have take the opportunities that present themselves. I want our team to have an opportunity to take advantage of this whole situation … and not so much get caught up in the hype. The process will take care of itself if we take care of the things we need to.”

Making sure players don’t buy too much into hype: “This is definitely a big game, but at the end of the day, it’s about getting better and being able to go out and compete each and every half. We’re going to try to put a full game together.”

Needing crowd support: “I know it’s over the holiday, but this is an amazing opportunity for the city of Bowling Green. For the University of Louisville, who just played in a national championship, to come here, and to be undefeated and No. 4 in the country, it’s big. I hope people want to bring people out and see our team and what we’re doing. I know it’s a process for us to keep building and get fans here, but I think this is a big step to where we want to go.”

Michelle Clark-Heard, Alexis Govan preview Saturday’s game at Northern Kentucky

The Western Kentucky women’s basketball team (3-1) visits Northern Kentucky at 6 p.m. CST Saturday, and we met with coach Michelle Clark-Heard and junior guard Alexis Govan today to preview that game. After the NKU game, WKU returns home to host No. 4 Louisville at 7 p.m. Wednesday.

Here are Heard and Govan’s comments:

MICHELLE CLARK-HEARD

Where is the team at right now? “This last game, we were putting some things together. Being able to go on the road and shoot 63 percent – I don’t know any time in my coaching career that’s been done. It’s not easy, going on the road and shooting that well. We came out of the locker room and got off to a good start, and as a coach, that’s what you expect.”

Breakout game for Govan: “It’s a different situation for Chastity and Alexis this year, because now everyone knows about them. Everyone’s scouting report has those two on there, starred and in bold. As a coach, you’re saying you’re not going to let those two beat you. So, as a great player, you always try to find your niche, no matter what it is.”

On Northern Kentucky: “I feel like a broken record these last four games. I’ve been saying, ‘They can shoot the 3, they can shoot the 3.’ Well, Northern Kentucky can shoot the 3 again. We’re going to have to guard on the perimeter and rebound. It wasn’t an easy win for us here last year. They’re playing well, and they play well together.”

Keeping team focused on NKU before Louisville: “It’s very easy. We talk about that we’re four games in. Our basketball team is really smart, too. There are a lot of good teams that have been getting beat early in the season, so we talk to them a lot about that. It’s one game at a time, one place at a time, one opponent at a time.”

Scoring being up: “What we’re trying to do … is put points on the board so people can come out and watch the uptempo – the way we play. They enjoy that. I think that’s one of the things that we’re trying to build upon. When you can put players on the floor that love to have the offense – and know if they play defense, they can come down on offense and not have to slow it down and run sets every time – I think they enjoy that. As a coach, I also know that’s what brings fans and gets them in the stands.”

Debbie Antonelli talking to team before the season: “She’s a very big proponent of offense and scoring. She talked to our players and gave them tips about good teams that do score, and how they score. She talked to them about player shooting the shots they shoot in practice, passing and getting it to open players – things that sound simple.”

ALEXIS GOVAN

Where is the team at right now? “I think we’re starting to hit our stride and get everything flowing. Defensively, it’s coming together, and offensively, we’re starting to pick it up and get on the right track.”

Scoring being up: “Honestly, we didn’t put a lot of emphasis on scoring. It was mainly defending, and our defense has turned into a lot of offense for us. Everybody’s knocking down shots, which makes it even better.”

Her breakthrough game: “I guess it was about time. My teammates have been getting on me about shooting the ball, and (needing) to stop thinking about the shot I just missed. I think I finally got my confidence back.”

Improving defensive transition: “I know definitely today, that’s going to be an emphasis in practice. We’re going to do a lot of drills on picking the ball up early and somebody getting back and covering the basket and getting out on shooters. We have to do that, especially against Northern. They’ve got some shooters.”

Not looking ahead to U of L: “We can’t overlook Northern. We can’t overlook anybody. We have to handle business on the road this weekend and then see what’s going on with Louisville next week.”