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:
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.”