Kayla Styles

Western Kentucky women's basketball coach Michelle Clark-Heard confirmed that forward Kayla Styles has left the program. Styles, a transfer from Spaulding University, was sitting out this season due to NCAA transfer rules

Kayla Styles is no longer with the Western Kentucky women's basketball program.

The transfer left the Lady Toppers before Christmas break, WKU coach Michelle Clark-Heard told the Daily News on Wednesday.

Styles, a junior forward, was sitting out this season after transferring from Spalding over the offseason. She would’ve been eligible to play starting in the 2016-17 season.

“She decided that this is something she didn’t want to do,” Heard said, “so we’re moving forward and we’re excited about the players that we have.”

WKU was the third collegiate stop for Styles, a former standout at DuPont Manual High School.

The 6-foot-1 Styles started her college career at Xavier but left during her freshman year. She moved back home to Louisville and transferred to Division II school Spalding, where she was named the D3Hoops.com Central Region Rookie of the Year.

Styles led the Golden Eagles in scoring (17.5 ppg), rebounding (10.0 rpg), assists (2.8 apg), blocks (2.3 bpg), steals (2.2 spg) and 3-point field goal percentage (36.3 percent).

She announced in the spring of 2015 that she was leaving that program to come play at WKU for Heard, who had recruited Styles dating back to her days as an assistant coach at Louisville.

Styles was rated among the top five players in the state of Kentucky and among the top 20 at her position coming out of high school. She was tabbed a four-star recruit by ESPN.

Styles was named to the Courier-Journal All-State First Team in 2012-13 and was part of the Lady Crimsons' state championship-winning squad as a junior in 2011-12.

Styles joins Bria Gaines, Kierra Muhammad, Jaiveonna Norris and Ruta Savickaite as players who’ve left the WKU program for reasons other than graduation in the past year.

The Lady Toppers still have two transfer players on the roster that will be eligible next season – sophomore guard Jaycee Coe and forward Kyvin Goodin-Rogers, both of whom transferred from Kentucky.

Smith back at practice for WKU

Kayla Smith was back at practice for WKU (12-2 overall, 3-0 Conference USA) on Wednesday after missing the Lady Toppers’ win at Florida Atlantic on Saturday due to illness.

Heard said she’s easing the freshman/guard forward back into action “day-by-day” and hopes to have her available when WKU hosts Rice (3-11, 2-1) at 7 p.m. Thursday in E.A. Diddle Arena.

Smith started the Lady Toppers’ first 13 games this season before missing the FAU win. She’s averaged 6.3 points and 2.1 rebounds per contest.

The 5-foot-11 Fayetteville, Ga., native was replaced in the starting lineup Saturday by junior guard Ima Akpan.

“You get so used to Kayla being in the lineup and doing the things she does for us, just defensively and playing hard all the time,” Heard said. “It’ll add a lot. With her down it takes one of the guards off the roster for us.”

Akpan taking on bigger role for Lady Tops

Akpan filled in capably Saturday when replacing Smith for her first Division I start.

The Kilgore College transfer totaled four points, seven rebounds and four assists in 24 minutes on the floor during WKU’s 81-62 victory.

Akpan, a 5-10 native of Calabar, Nigeria, is now averaging 2.1 points and 2.4 rebounds per game with 15 total assists. Some of her best work off the bench comes on the defensive end, sophomore forward Ivy Brown said.

“When she sits down and plays defense, she’s one of our better defenders,” Brown said. “And then attacking the rim, she makes a lot of good moves and then she can finish. She’s bringing that to the table.”

With just 10 players on WKU’s active roster, there’s opportunity for playing time.

Akpan has played at least 10 minutes all but one time during the Lady Toppers’ current nine-game winning streak. Her 24 minutes against the Owls on Saturday marked a career high.

Akpan came to WKU this season after being named a NJCAA All-Region XIV selection as a sophomore last year at Kilgore, a JUCO in Texas.

“I think the most important thing for her is she’s a winner,” Heard said. “She just plays hard.

“She got her hands on a lot of rebounds. Guarding, she just does a lot of different things.

“The thing that’s so important for us right now is she can play multiple positions. She can be at a guard and she can play as a small forward. So that really helps us with our rotation when we’re short numbers.”

— Follow Daily News sports reporter Brad Stephens on Twitter at twitter.com/stephens_brad or visit bgdailynews.com.