Team meeting, team basketball fueling WKU toward title run

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FRISCO, Texas — Before leaving for Frisco, Texas, Ivy Brown and Tashia Brown gathered their teammates – many of whom are underclassmen – and explained to them how things needed to be different moving forward.

The return investment? So far, so good.

“When you have that and you don’t have anything to do with it – actually I really didn’t even know about it until after the meeting was over,” WKU coach Michelle Clark-Heard said. “But it says a lot about how Ivy and Tashia think of this program and how hard it’s been for us to build this program to get to where we’re at and how we talk about who we are as a Lady Topper program. It meant a lot, but it also didn’t surprise me because of who those two individuals are.”

Western Kentucky walloped Texas San Antonio 78-50 on Thursday at the Conference USA tournament thanks to a balanced attack and stifling defense that sounded the alarm to the rest of the league that the defending champs are still to be reckoned with. Four Lady Toppers finished in double figures and sophomore guard Whitney Creech had 11 assists for WKU which advanced to face North Texas (17-13) in the semifinals at 8 p.m. Friday.

The win Thursday for Western was also one that included just 12 points from Conference USA’s player of the year Tashia Brown. Her teammates picked up the slack in a big way.

We need everybody to step up every single night one through nine,” Ivy Brown said. “For (Creech) to step up, Raneem (Elgedawy), Dee (Givens), Sidnee (Bopp) – all of them to step up, that’s really big for us. It opens up the game a lot more for Tashia as well when people like that are knocking down shots.”

North Texas, the No. 11 seed, has pulled off back-to-back, shocking upsets of No. 6 Charlotte and No. 3 Louisiana Tech. A win Friday over No. 2 would be as equally as shocking.

Western beat North 79-65 on Jan. 26 in Bowling Green and has won seven straight in the series dating back to 2012.

“I don’t really know if you really can (prepare for WKU’s depth,” UNT coach Jalie Mitchell said. “Honestly I feel like each team we’ve played has probably played more people than we have. I think you have what you have.

“At this point we’ve all played at least one game in this tournament. I think there’s just some passion and some fire and some hope, to be quite honest, that feels you at this point in this season. Just some adrenaline. You just have to feed off some of those things and your love and passion for each other. Our team fights and they fight together and it’s a beautiful sight to see and I’m really excited for them.”

The Lady Toppers remain on track for their second straight league title and third in their past four tries. They’re also now 11-2 in league tournament play since Heard took over the program in 2012.

And after Thursday’s victory, one that washed away the bad vibes from an 0-2 road trip to end the regular season, WKU looks to be back on track to seriously make another title run.

“I’m just really proud of our group. We didn’t have the best of week’s last week, but it says a lot about the resilience about this team the way we came out and played today. I credit my seniors,” Heard said. “They’ve really stepped up and really got this group together and we kinda went back to work and just really proud of them and just really excited to have a chance to be advancing to play (Friday).

“Anytime you get to the semis it’s gonna be a dogfight. We’re just really excited that we’re sitting in this position again, to have the opportunity to play in the semis. Right now it’s just survive and advance for everyone. We’re gonna get everybody’s best game and we’re gonna have our gameplan ready for (North Texas).”

— Follow WBKO sportswriter Chad Bishop on Twitter @MrChadBishop