Michelle Clark-Heard’s players were the ones reassuring the Western Kentucky women’s basketball coach Wednesday night.
The Lady Toppers (14-3, 7-1 Sun Belt Conference) fell behind by 11 points in the second half against Louisiana-Lafayette before surging to a 75-64 win at E.A. Diddle Arena.
WKU closed the game on a 37-15 run after ULL (7-11, 1-8) opened a 49-38 lead with 13:29 to play.
“Well, we got out of that one alive,” Heard said. “I was really proud of our group in the second half. We didn’t start well, but we fought and did a lot of things differently with change-ups. I’m proud that they stepped up and were able to focus and concentrate, and not get down on themselves.”
Things looked grim for the Lady Toppers early in the second half, as sophomore forward Chastity Gooch was forced to the bench at the 14:57 mark with four fouls.
But sophomore guard Alexis Govan led the way with 25 points and 14 rebounds, and junior guard Bianca McGee chipped in 22 second-half points.
The win gives WKU its best start since the 1994-95 season.
“When you’ve got Bianca McGee coming to the bench and telling everybody, ‘Come on, let’s go. We’re not going to lose,’ and Alexis Govan talking in the huddle, I’m looking around as a coach, knowing that’s the positiveness you need,” Heard said. “They believe. All they’re looking for is for us to give them direction.”
The Lady Tops had to overcome the hot shooting of ULL, which made 10 of 20 3-pointers. Freshman guard Sylvana Okde knocked down six shots from behind the arc and scored a team-high 22 points.
WKU went on a 10-2 run late in the first half to open a 32-25 lead with 1:22 left before the break, but Okde’s 3 with 37 seconds remaining cut the Ragin’ Cajuns’ deficit to four.
“It was a little frustrating, but we challenged each other that whoever was guarding her was going to sit down and not let her knock down another one,” Govan said. “If they did, we were switching, and for the next person, that was their challenge.”
Another Okde 3-pointer gave ULL the lead early in the second half, and the Ragin’ Cajuns used an 8-0 burst to take their largest advantage at 49-38 with 13:29 left.
With Gooch on the bench, Govan, McGee and the Lady Tops came to life.
McGee answered with back-to-back 3s, and four minutes later, her jumper capped a 16-3 run and put WKU up 54-52 with 7:54 to play.
“Bianca came up to me at halftime and said, ‘Coach, don’t worry. It’s going to get better in the second half,’ ” Heard said. “When you’ve got a player that’s that confident and wants to put some things on her shoulder, it helps a lot.”
After two free throws by freshman guard LeAsia Wright, junior guard Chaney Means got a steal and a layup, and Govan netted her lone 3-point attempt to provide some separation.
“A couple times on the court, we tried to get each other going,” sophomore guard Ileana Johnson said. “I think towards the end, when Chaney got out there and got that steal, we all got into the game. That’s when we really picked up the energy.”
The Lady Tops shot 45.6 percent from the field and outrebounded ULL 40-30. Gooch finished with five points and 10 rebounds, ending her streak of nine straight double-doubles.
Means chipped in nine points, while Johnson added a career-high eight points. The Ragin’ Cajuns shot 41.5 percent and had 19 turnovers.
The Lady Toppers, still tied for the conference lead with Middle Tennessee, host Arkansas-Little Rock at 2 p.m. Saturday. WKU beat the Trojans 78-69 in Little Rock on Jan. 3.
“Our whole goal is to take care of business here at home,” Heard said. “We’re 2-0 during this stretch, and we’re going to try to get the next one.”