Diddle Arena was rocking on Saturday as the WKU Lady Topper basketball team defeated no. 16 ranked Louisville, 71-68.
“They just showed a lot of heart out there,” coach Michelle Clark-Heard said of her team’s performance. “It was huge for our program. There were a lot of former players in the crowd tonight and when they come up to you and they [have] this big smile on their face, that’s what it’s all about.”
The Lady Tops were led by guards Tashia Brown and Kendall Noble who had 16 and 22 points, respectively.
“I think it just showed us that we can play,” Noble said. “I think we were a little unsure about our identity since losing Chastity [Gooch] and Alexis [Govan], we didn’t know how this year was gonna go but I think we’re starting to figure it out.”
Despite the huge victory and outstanding individual performances from Brown and Noble, a bigger headline from Saturday was the injury to senior guard and captain, Micah Jones. Jones went down with a scary knee injury at the 7:33 mark of the second quarter. She did not return to the game.
“We got in the locker room and they had to gather themselves and get together and I think that was one of the most amazing things,” Clark-Heard said.
“And I think the one who took it the hardest was Kendall Noble because [Micah’s] her best friend, and then she comes out and does what she does in the second half so it shows a lot about her as an individual and a lot about this team.”
In the second half, junior guard Kendall Noble lit it up on the offensive end, scoring 14 second-half points. Noble hit two consecutive three-pointers to give the Lady Tops a 56-51 lead with under six minutes left in the game.
“They just kept going around the screens and they were daring me to shoot it pretty much, so I let it fly and they went in,” Noble said.
The combination of Brown’s smooth jumper and constant defensive pressure kept the Lady Tops in the game early when Louisville was making its run in the second quarter.
“To be able to have Tashia step up and be able to help Kendall bring the ball up when Micah went down and to have the poise to take the ball out of bounds and get it in; Tashia’s just been great for us,” Clark-Heard said. “She made some huge baskets and some nice pull-up jumpers and just did a lot of great things for us, so she’s huge for us and I’m just glad to see her continue to keep getting better.”
The way Louisville stayed in the game after falling behind 16-9 in the first quarter was through offensive rebounding and lead guard, Briahanna Jackson.
Louisville outrebounded WKU 31-13 on the offensive glass, and Jackson had 13 second-quarter points to spark the Lady Cards and finished with 24.
But a WKU defense that forced 21 turnovers and held the Lady Cards to just 33 percent shooting from the field proved to be too large for the Lady Cards to overcome in the end.
“We had 31 offensive rebounds, but I’m a big believer in ‘who cares?’, because if you can’t make them, then what does it matter? Instead of going 0-1 you’re 0-2 and in some cases for us, 0-3,” Louisville Head Coach Jeff Walz said.
This matchup was a special one for both Walz and Clark-Heard, who have ties with each other and their respective schools.
Walz got his start at WKU as an assistant in 1996-1997, and Clark-Heard spent five seasons under coach Walz at UL when he got the head coaching job.
“Michelle had her group playing hard which we knew they would. She does a great job, her kids compete [and] her kids play hard,” Walz said.
After a tough 74-60 loss on the road at Ball State to open the season, the first win for WKU over a ranked opponent since 2004 is even more satisfying for Clark-Heard and her team.