The Western Kentucky women’s basketball team wants to be in the driver’s seat when it comes to the Sun Belt Conference standings.
The Lady Toppers get their shot at the team currently behind the wheel when they host Arkansas State at 4:30 p.m. today at E.A. Diddle Arena.
A win would move WKU (11-4 overall, 3-1 Sun Belt) to the top of the league.
“They’re only taking eight teams to the (conference) tournament this year, and we want to be in a great position where we can control our own destiny,” WKU coach Michelle Clark-Heard said. “That’s the opportunity that presents itself (today), to go up against the team that’s won the most games in the conference.”
The game will serve as the 31st annual BB&T Classic, but it’s also game two on the revenge tour.
WKU routed Arkansas-Little Rock 65-39 at home Wednesday, avenging last year’s loss to the Trojans in the Sun Belt tournament, and it’ll try to get Arkansas State (10-7, 4-1) back today for two losses in the regular season in 2012-13.
The Lady Tops lost the lead at home to the Red Wolves last year in the final 30 seconds.
“I know they understand we got swept by Arkansas State,” Heard said.
“This is a great opportunity for us on our home court to keep rising and get us to where we need to.”
Arkansas State brought back most of the pieces from last year’s squad and added a dynamic transfer in guard Aundrea Gamble.
The sophomore out of Kilgore College is second in the conference in scoring at 18.2 points per game to go along with 6.2 rebounds and 3.9 assists per game.
“She brings a ton to them because she can shoot the 3 and put it on the floor and get it to the basket,” Heard said.
“She’s very offensive-minded. She leads their team. They look for her. When it’s tight and it’s crunch time, they put the ball in her hands, and she’s going to make some decisions.”
Junior guard Hanna Qedan and senior forward Jane Morrill, who made the game-winning shot at WKU last year, each average 11.9 points per game. Sophomore forward Jalen O’Bannon averages 10.8 points and 6.9 rebounds.
The Lady Tops could use some of the defensive fire they showed against UALR on Wednesday, when they held the Trojans to 28.3 percent shooting.
In its first nine games this season, WKU gave up an average of 63.4 points per game. It’s allowed an average of 55.7 points over the last seven games.
“We did everything well,” junior forward Chastity Gooch said of the UALR win. “We communicated on the court, and we played as a team. (ASU’s) posts are really good. We know they’ve got a new player, the point guard, and we heard she’s really good.”
The Lady Tops’ offense has also picked up during their three-game winning streak, despite the absence of junior guard Alexis Govan, who remained on crutches Wednesday with a stress fracture in her left tibia.
During the win streak, six WKU players are shooting 50 percent or better from the field. The Lady Tops are 22 of 45 (48.9 percent) as a team from 3-point range during that span.
But Heard said they’ll have to be on their toes against Arkansas State, which got some extra motivation Tuesday with a home loss to Georgia State. WKU beat GSU by 21 at home last week.
“They’ve got a ton of players,” Heard said.
“We’re going to have to guard. Just a very balanced attack, and they’re going to be ready to go. They’re coming off a loss, and they’re going to be ready to go when they get in here.”
WKU has won at least 11 of 15 games to start a season in back-to-back years for the first time since 1998-99. ... The Lady Tops have held an opponent under 40 points six times in the last 17 seasons, including twice under Heard. ... Gooch needs 30 points to reach 1,000 for her career.