The Western Kentucky women’s basketball team found a way to survive in its season opener Saturday, rallying for a 78-75 victory over Austin Peay at E.A. Diddle Arena.
The Lady Toppers (1-0) fell behind 11-0 to start the game and trailed by seven with 11:15 left in the second half, but they used a 23-10 run to reclaim a 76-70 advantage with 30 seconds remaining.
Austin Peay (0-1) had a shot to tie with 5 seconds left, but Tiasha’s Gray attempt came up short.
The Lady Tops shot 34.2 percent from the field and made 17 of 28 free throws. They made 3 of 16 shots to start the game, and their starters were 4 of 18 from the floor in the first half.
Senior guard Bianca McGee gave WKU a spark off the bench with a team-high 21 points, while junior forward Chastity Gooch added 15 points and 15 rebounds.
Junior guard Alexis Govan, who picked up her second foul with 16:13 left in the first half and sat the rest of the frame, finished with 13 points. Sophomore guard Micah Jones made 6 of 6 free throws and chipped in 14 points.
Here are postgame comments from Gooch, Govan, McGee and coach Michelle Clark-Heard:
Thoughts on game: “It was definitely a struggle. You know, it was our first game. It’s not good when one of your best players has to go out with two fouls in the first four minutes of the game. One thing I’m really proud of is that our bench showed up. Bianca McGee was huge when she came off the bench. Everybody that came in gave us some crucial minutes. That’s what a team’s about. It wasn’t pretty, but at the end of the day, we’ve got to keep getting better and keep working so we can make sure we don’t make the same mistakes in the next game.”
Keeping the newcomers poised: “I didn’t want to put them in a panic situation. It’s a long ballgame, and everything can change. I focused on us defensively and tried to get us some easy shots, because we weren’t making some of our shots.”
What was Austin Peay doing defensively? “The biggest thing was the way they were playing our ball screens. We were getting wide-open looks, and they just weren’t going in. I told them to keep shooting them, because that’s what I wanted them to do.”
Missing easy shots: “We missed a ton of easy shots. Every time they came to the huddle, I was talking to them about their focus. It’s something we’ll have to continue to work on, because we got a ‘W,’ but I give Austin Peay and Carrie Daniels a ton of credit, because they could have come in and got the win just as much as we did.”
Missing free throws: “A lot of the games are going to go down to the stretch. If you can’t make free throws, we’re going to be in a bad situation. We made them early and started missing. We’ve got to get back in the gym and get them focused … because we’re a good free-throw shooting team. They have to be confident in that when they step up there.”
Improvements needed defensively: “We have to contest shots better, so we’re going to go back and work on those things so people don’t get wide-open looks like that. You can take care of the basketball, but that was why the game was tight.”
Thoughts on game: “We just had to get our focus back. We came out not focused and not with the energy that we usually play with and the fans are used to seeing. We had to fight through that and find that focus and put it in second gear.”
Needing more energy: “I’m sure we’ll all get together as a team and talk about what we’ve got to do to bring that energy from the tip and for the whole 40 minutes. We go to Vandy on Monday, so we don’t have a lot of time to sit around and think about it. We’ve got to push forward and get better.”
What did you all learn from this one? “It definitely showed us that we’ve got to come in prepared. Coach has been pounding it into us to come in focused every day for a full practice, and we have our lulls. Today, we realized we’ve got to change our mentality completely and focus for a whole, entire practice and a whole, entire game.”
Sluggish start: “We knew they were going to be shooting a lot of 3s and knew who could shoot, but we just came out unfocused. We weren’t surprised.”
Stepping up in the second half: “At halftime, coach had got in my ear. I knew I had to step up. Luckily, our bench came out, and they did what they had to do to get us back in the game.”
Giving spark off the bench: “The coaches and some of the players, like Alexis and Chastity, just told me they were going to need a spark. Chaney came to me and said we were going to need a spark on defense. That’s kind of what I tried to focus on.”