Western Kentucky’s Alexis Govan and Chastity Gooch got a different perspective in the closing minutes of Tuesday’s women’s basketball exhibition opener.
The junior standouts still paved the way for the Lady Toppers, but WKU put a fuller roster on display in an 87-49 win over Kentucky Wesleyan at E.A. Diddle Arena.
Gooch and Govan paced the Lady Tops with 20 points and 16 points, respectively, while 11 of 12 players in uniform scored and 10 logged double-digit minutes.
“It was fun,” Govan said. “We all got a chance to watch the game and cheer for our teammates and see what’s happening and take it in like everybody else does, instead of being on the court, being like, ‘When am I going to get some water? I’m tired.’ We gave it our all and got to come out and cheer our teammates on.”
WKU often played with eight or nine healthy players last season, and four players – including Govan and Gooch – averaged 29.6 minutes or more.
But no player played more than 25 minutes in Tuesday’s exhibition victory. Nine players handed out assists, including six with multiple dishes.
Govan, who was named preseason Sun Belt Conference Player of the Year earlier in the day, was 6-for-12 from the field and added four rebounds, three steals and three assists in 23 minutes.
Gooch made 8 of 11 shots and pulled down 14 rebounds with two assists in 25 minutes. She finished second in the nation last season with 26 double-doubles.
“It was really different,” Gooch said. “Like (Alexis) was saying pretty much, half of the time we’ll be tired, but this time we could go as hard as we could, and we knew we had subs coming in for us.”
The Lady Toppers overwhelmed Kentucky Wesleyan inside, outrebounding the Panthers 45-29 and outscoring them in the paint 50-16.
Sophomore forward Jalynn McClain notched a double-double off the bench with 12 points and 10 rebounds. Freshman centers Ruta Savickaite and Bria Gaines, who stand 6 feet, 4 inches and 6-3, respectively, scored a combined 13 points.
“I knew this would be interesting for us, because we’d have to figure out different combinations and substitution patterns, but it’s awesome,” coach Michelle Clark-Heard said. “To be able to have Ruta and Bria and sub them in and out and get them some quality minutes, and the same with all the newcomers. At times, the newcomers did some good things.
“That was good for us to see because now we’ve got to continue to get better. They got that first game under their belt, and we’re looking forward to moving on.”
WKU opened a 10-0 lead and didn’t allow Kentucky Wesleyan to score until the 12:14 mark of the first half. The Panthers missed their first 10 shots.
KWC’s Shelbi Tyra netted two free throws with 4:23 left in the frame to cut the Lady Tops’ advantage to 24-13, but WKU finished the first half on a 20-7 run for a 44-20 lead at the break.
The Lady Tops pushed their lead as high as 40 with 38 seconds left in the game, as they spent much of the second half tinkering with lineup combinations and getting the five newcomers in uniform valuable playing time.
“Jalynn McClain played incredible tonight,” Heard said. “She’s gotten better and better, and she’s really worked on it. If we don’t give them the opportunity to have minutes, when it comes time for tournament or Sun Belt, they’re not going to be ready.”
Govan, Gooch, senior guard Chaney Means and sophomore guard Micah Jones started for the Lady Tops, along with Savickaite, who filled the starting role occupied last year by guard Bianca McGee.
The senior McGee made four 3-pointers off the bench for 12 points.
“I’ve got a 6-3 and a 6-4,” Heard said. “I’m just being honest. Last year, we were undersized, and ... Ruta’s been playing well. It’s nothing that Bianca did or hasn’t done, but it goes back to us having 12 players now that dress. You have to make some decisions as a staff, and we felt that was the best lineup.”
WKU recorded 23 assists, led by Means’ game-high eight with no turnovers. The veteran also recorded five points and four steals, and drew four charges in the first half.
“I guess that’s kind of like my job,” Means said. “These girls do their thing on the offensive end and defensive end, but I’m just kind of the energizer, I guess. I try to do it that way.”
Asia Coates paced Kentucky Wesleyan with 13 points.
Heard said she did see things to work on, including a “very high” 18 turnovers, ahead of WKU’s second exhibition at 2 p.m. Sunday against Glenville State. The Lady Tops’ regular-season opener is Nov. 9 at home against Austin Peay.
“I’m looking forward to going back and watching the film, because as the game goes on, you see certain things,” Heard said. “I’m looking forward to seeing those things so we can figure out the things we have to work on to get better.”