WKU coach Michelle Clark-Heard talks Baylor, Odyssey Sims and Alexis Govan’s progress

We checked in with the WKU women’s basketball team today as they prepare to leave Thursday for Waco, Texas, ahead of Saturday’s first-round NCAA tournament game at Baylor.

A few links for you:

We met with WKU coach Michelle Clark-Heard, junior guard Chanell Lockhart and injured junior Alexis Govan today. First, here are Heard’s comments.

MICHELLE CLARK-HEARD

After watching Baylor more: “They’re very good. They’re a great team, and they play in a great conference. They play against great competition every day. They have an unbelievable player in Odyssey Sims, and they have a big kid that can score and rebound around the basket, and Kim Mulkey’s daughter who can shoot it really well from deep. They love to get up and down the floor and push the ball. I mean, they score 84 points a game. We’re going to have to try to limit their baskets in transition. We’ll have to sit down and guard and rebound, and make shots.”

How they handle the task: “I think our kids are excited about this journey. At the end of the day, it’s a big opportunity for us to go out and be the best we can be in an unbelievable atmosphere. It’s going to be on their home floor in front of thousands of people. As a player, I think that’s what you dream about.”

On Baylor’s Odyssey Sims: “She’s an unbelievable guard. She’s very, very good at being able to get to the basket. She’s got a strong body. She can shoot the 3. She’s very aggressive getting to the free-throw line. She shoots a lot of free throws. She can shoot the pull-up. She handles the ball very well, understanding when the traps are coming at her, how to handle it, how to get out.”

Baylor having several inexperienced players: “Being freshmen, it won’t make a difference. They’re on their home floor. They’ll have an opportunity and chance for them to have the chance to keep growing. … That’s the beauty of being able to play in the postseason. They’ll be ready.”

Enjoying the experience: “I remember my times being able to go to the NCAAs. There’s 64 teams left in the country, and we’re one of them. That’s a huge accomplishment, but I also know, too, we got the trophy. It’s sitting here, and we have that title now, but we have to keep building. We’re hungry.”

Importance of good start vs. Baylor: “We’ve been watching a ton of film. They can put up numbers fast. If you can’t withstand that first four minutes, it’s going to be crucial for us. It becomes crucial that we continue to have the confidence we’ve had. It’s going to be a different atmosphere, but the rim’s still the same. The floor’s going to be the same length, the rim’s the same height.”

Update on Govan: “She went back and got another X-ray, and I know this has been a very slow process. But you know what, the doctors have told her she’s definitely make a ton more progress. She’s going to be able to do a little bit more stuff with the trainers, and just working to make sure when we start to make the impact, we don’t go backwards. She’s doing great. She’s not released to play or anything yet, but we wanted to make sure we didn’t have a situation where we didn’t know what was going to happen – possible surgery. She is getting better, and everyone’s body’s different. She’s been incredible.”

With the way it’s going, does surgery look unlikely? “The way it’s going. That was the plan all along. You and I both know I’m not a doctor. I just go by what they tell us. She’s doing everything she’s supposed to do to make sure it continues to heal.”

WKU Lady Tops signee Ivy Brown wins Kentucky Miss Basketball award

LaRue County guard Ivy Brown shoots last season against Green County at LCHS. (Neal Cardin, Elizabethtown News-Enterprise/Special to the Daily News)

LaRue County guard Ivy Brown shoots last season against Green County at LCHS. (Neal Cardin, Elizabethtown News-Enterprise/Special to the Daily News)

The Western Kentucky Lady Toppers’ big week continued Tuesday with a major award for a future player.

LaRue County senior guard Ivy Brown, a WKU signee, was named 2014 Kentucky Miss Basketball Tuesday night at a ceremony in Lexington.

“I was definitely very excited,” Brown said. “It’s a huge, huge honor, knowing that the coaches picked me to represent Kentucky like that.”

The 6-foot-2-inch guard is the Lady Toppers’ first Miss Basketball to join the program out of high school since Crystal Kelly did so in 2004 out of Sacred Heart. 2006 winner Arnika Brown, from Christian County, was the last Miss Basketball to play for WKU after transferring from Kentucky.

Twelve previous Kentucky Miss Basketball winners have attended WKU. Four of the top 10 scorers in Lady Topper history won the award.

WKU brought in 10 Miss Basketball winners from 1981-97, but Kelly and Arnika Brown were the only two since 1998 until this season.

“I’m excited to be down there and be able to add to all of the accomplishments they’ve had,” Ivy Brown said. “Bringing them back to the top is definitely something I’m looking forward to.”

The other finalists for this year’s award were Anderson County’s MacKenzie Cann and Eriel McKee, Newport Central Catholic’s Nicole Kiernan, Perry County Central’s Kayla Rankin, Ballard’s Javonna Layfield and Sacred Heart’s Daijia Ruffin.

Ivy Brown averaged 24.4 points and 12.6 rebounds as LaRue County finished 24-7 and fell to state runner-up Elizabethtown in the Region 5 championship. She holds the LCHS records for career points, rebounds and steals.

Brown, who was also named a nominee for the 2014 McDonald’s All American Game, is ranked 73rd nationally in the 2014 class by ESPN’s HoopsGurlz and 80th by All Star Girls Report. She chose WKU over Kentucky, Middle Tennessee and Tennessee Tech.

She said she’s kept her eye on the Lady Tops’ run to a Sun Belt Conference title and NCAA berth, and she’s excited for what the future could hold for her and the program.

“It’s exciting to watch and see how far they’ve come, ” she said. “Even with (junior guard) Alexis (Govan) out, they’ve played awesome. I think with Alexis they could’ve done even more damage. It’s just an awesome turnaround.”

WKU president Gary Ransdell: NCAA tourney bid step toward Lady Tops ‘recapturing’ former prestige

I talked Tuesday with WKU president Gary Ransdell, who was at the WKU women’s basketball team’s NCAA selection show watch party Monday night.

Ransdell talked about the state of the program, the job done by Michelle Clark-Heard in her first two years, and how the program can use its momentum to regain some of the prestige it carried in the last 30 years.

GARY RANSDELL

Getting back to tournament: “We have a long, rich history with women’s basketball and NCAA tournament play, but it’s been a bit of a dry spell. I’m glad we’re back. It’s been even longer since we won a game. … It’s good to be back in that tournament, playing for a national championship. We’re still playing, and that’s very satisfying and encouraging for the future given the fact that we have so much talent returning on this team as we go into Conference USA.”

You said when Heard was hired that women’s hoops would be fixed in a year or two. How satisfying is it that she’s lived up to most of those expectations? “We knew at the time we were throwing a huge challenge at Michelle, but she has delivered in ways we probably didn’t have any right to expect at that time. To be 24-8 in her second year, and with so much talent coming back, it’s very encouraging for the future. We have a tough draw, but we’re going to have to earn our way into a higher seed and a better tournament pairing. That’s not going to be given to us. We have to earn our way, and we will do that. This was an important initial step.”

Importance of NCAA tourney bid to the casual fan: “In my opinion, I think our fans lost faith in Lady Topper basketball. Our attendance has not been what it was 10 or 15 years ago. We’ve got to recapture that. I think getting back to the NCAA tournament is an important statement to our fans that we’re serious about Lady Topper basketball and intend to be a nationally competitive, as it was when we were drawing three, four, five thousand people per game.”

WKU AD Todd Stewart on Lady Tops’ NCAA bid: ‘It’s a major step forward’

Going to try to continue to slowly roll out some content for you all this week as the WKU women prepare to play Baylor.

Here are some comments from athletic director Todd Stewart after Monday’s selection show. Stewart was introduced as the school’s interim AD at the same news conference to introduce Michelle Clark-Heard as the Lady Tops’ coach March 22, 2012.

Two years to the day later, Heard will lead WKU onto the court to play second-seeded Baylor.

TODD STEWART

Thoughts on their draw: “Just thrilled for the program, thrilled for Michelle, our coaching staff, our players. I know how hard they’ve worked and how passionate and dedicated they are. To see our name up there – you’re known by the company you keep – and to see our name up there on that line and be apart of this NCAA tournament for the first time in six years is a huge, huge step forward for this program.”

Some national exposure: “I think it’s awesome. Saturday night, nationally televised game – I know our girls are ready for that, and they’re excited for it. They played so well in New Orleans with everything on the line. I’m just happy they have this kind of week to kind of bask in the glory of this.”

Heard’s rapid success: “All the credit to Michelle and her staff. As you all know, she inherited a team that was 9-21 with no seniors, and two years later, we have 24 wins, a conference championship and we’re still playing.”

Was tourney berth needed to spark interest in the program? “It’s a major step forward. I think what it does is validate that we’ve made major steps forward. Throughout the summer and the fall, we will certainly use that to promote the program. The one thing that was a little disappointing this year was some of our crowds. The attendance was better this year than it had been, but I think this coaching staff and these players deserve better crowds than what we had last year. And if people didn’t check out a Lady Topper game this year, they really missed out. I hope that’s something we can improve next year, because I know if they come, they’ll love what they see.”

WKU-Baylor: A few links, and a look at what’s ahead

If you somehow missed the news, the Western Kentucky women’s basketball team has an NCAA tournament date with Baylor on Saturday.

The No. 15 seed Lady Toppers will face the second-seeded Lady Bears on their own court in Waco, Texas, at 5:30 p.m. CDT Saturday on ESPN2. Here is the Daily News’ story from the selection show.

But I also wanted to pass along a couple of links from the other side of things.

Look for plenty of coverage of the Lady Toppers every day this week in the Daily News. We’re expected to meet with the team for interviews again Wednesday, and the team will travel to Waco on Thursday – as will the BGDN.

Baylor and WKU will have their official news conferences and practices Friday afternoon, so keep checking back here and at bgdailynews.com for the latest.

Baylor coach Kim Mulkey tells ESPN she’ll watch game vs. WKU at home on TV

Just wanted to pass along a couple of comments from Baylor coach Kim Mulkey, who was interviewed live during the NCAA Selection Show on ESPN on Monday night.

Mulkey won’t be able to coach Baylor against WKU on Saturday in the NCAA tournament as she serves a one-game tournament suspension stemming from publicly criticizing referees after last year’s loss to Louisville in the Sweet 16.

BAYLOR COACH KIM MULKEY

Her team this year: “I do enjoy this team, and the reason I do – every coach needs to be able to go to practice and enjoy seeing their faces, and not have to deal with issues off the floor. This team, we knew was going to be young and inexperienced, but they’re good kids, and they’re fun to be around. … That just makes coaching fun, and then when you win basketball games and do things people maybe didn’t expect, it puts icing on the cake for you.”

Not being able to coach first game: “Actually, I haven’t talked to the team in-depth about me not coaching in the first game. What I’m going to do is what it on television at home. I’ll be at all the other parts of the game day, as the NCAA has told me I’m allowed to. I can even scout the other two teams when they play, but I won’t be in the gym that day to even do that. I’m going to watch on television. We’re going to prepare them. I have a tremendous coaching staff, and as I tell the players all the time, something could happen to me on that sideline, and you should be able to coach yourself. I have no doubt they’ll do a great job.”

WKU gets 15 seed, Baylor in first round: Lady Tops react after watch party

The Lady Toppers are headed to Texas in their return to the NCAA tournament.

The Western Kentucky women’s basketball team (24-8) earned a No. 15 seed in the field announced Monday night and will face second-seeded Baylor in Saturday’s first round at 5:30 p.m. CDT on the Lady Bears’ home court in Waco, Texas.

WKU is in the Notre Dame region, and its first game will be broadcast on ESPN2. The winner of that game with Baylor will face either No. 7 seed California or No. 10 seed Fordham in the second round in Waco.

WKU has never faced Baylor. The Lady Bears (29-4) beat West Virginia 74-71 on March 10 for the Big 12 championship. They’re ranked fifth in the latest Associated Press poll released Monday.

Baylor coach Kim Mulkey won’t be able to coach against WKU because of a one-game NCAA tournament suspension handed down last season by the women’s basketball committee for publicly criticizing referees after the team’s 82-81 loss to Louisville in the Sweet 16.

WKU had a selection show watch party at Mister B’s Pizza & Wings, and coach Michelle Clark-Heard, sophomore Micah Jones and redshirt freshman Kendall Noble talked with the media after the reveal. Here are their comments:

MICHELLE CLARK-HEARD

Reaction to draw: “I’m just excited. We were sitting there for a while. Excited for the girls to have a chance to see our name pop up. At the end of the day, that’s what it’s all about. You never know where you’re going to end up and who you’re going to play. I’m just excited we got the opportunity. The coaches, we’re going to get back and prepare and get the girls ready.”

Thoughts on Baylor: “Just the ability to go and play against a great team like Baylor, and the opportunity to play against the leading scorer in the country in Odyssey Sims – the opportunity for these girls, to be able to compete in the NCAA, it’s awesome.”

Baylor coach Mulkey not being able to coach against WKU: “It’s just like coach Mulkey said. She’s been doing this for a long time. Her kids understand and know her. Odyssey’s been with her forever. She has a great staff, and they’ll prepare and do the things they need to. I don’t think that has anything to do with it.”

Playing Baylor in Waco: “The girls will get a chance to soak it in, and we’ll come out ready for practice tomorrow. We’ll fly out Thursday and get us ready and get the kids in the environment.”

KENDALL NOBLE

Reaction to draw: “We’re excited to go. We’re not going to back down to anyone. Baylor, they’re a good team, and we’re excited about the opportunity to play them.”

Waiting until very end: “It was so nerve-wracking. We were so anxious to see who we were going to play and where we were going to play. To be the last one, it was pretty nerve-wracking.”

Playing team like Baylor: “We’re really excited. They’re a great team and tough competition. We’ll probably learn a lot from them, and if we can, that would be even better.”

MICAH JONES

Draw: “We’re excited for the opportunity to go down there. We couldn’t control who we were going to play, and we’re excited for the opportunity to build our program up.”

Waiting until the end: “I was nervous the whole time, holding Kendall’s hand. It was hard waiting the whole time, but it was fun.”

Playing at Baylor: “We do play good on the road, and we’ve got a great coaching staff. They’re going to get us ready to play, whoever we were going to play.”