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:
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.”