AUBURN, Ala. – Following the largest win improvement in conference history, WKU’s season came to an end on Sunday afternoon in the second round of the 2013 Women’s NIT as the Lady Toppers suffered a 84-66 setback at Auburn Arena.
With 2013 Sun Belt Conference Coach of the Year Michelle Clark-Heard at the helm in her first year as a Division One coach, the Lady Toppers own one of the nation’s best turnarounds in 2012-13. WKU’s 13 win improvement over the 2011-12 season was the largest in Sun Belt Conference history as WKU turned a 9-21 mark into a 22-11 record. WKU’s eight win improvement in conference play from five wins to 13 wins was tied for the largest in league history. The Lady Toppers also became the first team in Sun Belt Conference history to win 20 games in the season following a year in which the team won less than 10 games earlier this season. WKU does not lose any player off the record-setting 2012-13 roster as the entire roster was made up of underclassmen.
By earning a bid to the WNIT and earning a first round victory, Clark-Heard and the Lady Toppers also helped end a five-year drought without a postseason win.
WKU (22-11, 13-7) hit a season-high 10 three-point field goals, just the 19th time in school history that WKU had hit 10 or more three-point field goals in a game. The Lady Toppers hit 8-of-15 from behind the three-point arc in the opening half.
Sophomore Alexis Govan led WKU with 23 points and eight rebounds. Sophomore Chastity Gooch had 19 points and 12 rebounds as she posted her 26th double-double of the season. Junior Bianca McGee added 16 points and had four steals.
WKU took an early 5-2 lead before Auburn (18-14) scored eight straight points in less than one minute to grab a 10-5 advantage. A basket by Govan and McGee’s second three-point field goal of the game tied the score at 10. Another basket by Govan gave WKU a 12-10 lead before Auburn scored 10 straight to go up 20-10. Another 10-0 run later in the half put the Tigers up 30-15 with 8:34 left in the first half.
WKU answered by scoring eight of the game’s next ten points, including consecutive three-point field goals by Govan and Gooch to cut the lead to nine at 32-23 with 6:23 left in the first half. Auburn later increased the lead to 17 twice in the opening half before WKU made a late run. Trailing 45-28 following a pair of free throws from Auburn’s Hasina Muhammad with 3:27 left, WKU scored 10 of the final 14 points of the half to trail 49-38 at the break.
The Lady Toppers hit 8-of-15 three-point field goals in the opening half, including four from McGee, helping to negate the Tigers’ 26-16 advantage on the boards in the first 20 minutes. Auburn had 19 points off 15 offensive rebounds in the opening half and turned 14 WKU turnovers into 19 points.
The Lady Toppers allowed the lead to blossom to 16 out of the gates in the second half before WKU cut the Tiger advantage to 10 at 56-46 following a free throw by Govan with 15:21 left. Auburn responded by scoring the games next 12 points to jump ahead by 22 at 68-46 before a basket by Gooch ended the run.