Chastity Gooch posted her third double-double in as many games, helping the Western Kentucky University women’s basketball team stay perfect on the young season, and at the same time start 1-0 in Sun Belt Conference play with a 62-56 win over Florida International Monday night at E.A. Diddle Arena.
The win improved the Lady Toppers to 3-0 and 1-0 in the league, while the Panthers dropped to 1-2 and 0-1 in conference action.
“This is an unbelievable group that is just resilient and is a fun group to coach right now,” said Lady Topper head coach Michelle Clark-Heard. “To go up against an FIU team that returned four starters and the preseason player of the year in the conference, it speaks volumes for this team and how hard they play every night we step out on the floor.”
WKU was able to overcome 33.9 percent shooting from the floor with its work on the defensive end. The Lady Toppers forced FIU in to 21 turnovers, collecting 15 steals in the game. They were able to turn those takeaways into 20 points, and also racked up 32 points in the paint against a much taller FIU squad.
The Panthers were able to jump out to an early three-point lead, but WKU was able to trade baskets to keep in close in the opening minutes. Trailing 11-8, Alexis Govan knocked down back-to-back shots to spark as 8-0 run to give the Lady Toppers their first lead of the game. In fact, WKU went on to outscore FIU 17-4 over a nearly six-minute stretch to storm out to a 25-15 lead following a pair of Ileana Johnson free throws at the 7:52 mark.
The Panthers got a spark off the bench from Arielle Durant, who scored eight straight points by herself to cut the WKU margin to 25-23 with just under four minutes remaining, but the Lady Toppers were able to close the half on a 10-0 run to take a 35-23 lead into the locker room at halftime.
The lead grew to 17 points early in the second half when a Govan layup made it 44-27, but FIU was able to score eight unanswered as part of a 15-2 run, closing the gap to four when a Jerica Coley layup made it a 46-42 game midway through the half.
Gooch was able to stop the bleeding with a basket, and scored six straight WKU points as part of a 12-6 spurt that stretched the lead back to double digits (58-48) on a Jalynn McClain three-point play with 1:58 remaining. The Panthers got a pair of buckets to cut the lead to 58-53 with 49 seconds left, and got three straight free throws from Durant to make it a 60-56 score with 19 ticks left. However, Micah Jones — who finished the night seven-for-eight at the line — iced the game with two free throws with 17 seconds left, and appropriately WKU go a steal on the final possession as time expired.
Gooch finished the night with a team-high 16 points, while also pulling down 11 of WKU’s 34 rebounds. She also posted a career-best six steals in 39 minutes of action. Govan and Jones each finished with 12 points. Marita Davydova paced FIU with a game-high 17 points and 13 rebounds.
WKU closes out a three-game homestand on Saturday (Nov. 24), hosting Illinois State at 5:30 p.m. (CST) at Diddle Arena.