WKU Lady Topper Basketball has released its complete 2017-18 schedule as announced by Head Coach Michelle Clark-Heard on Thursday afternoon, a slate that features 12 regular-season dates inside E.A. Diddle Arena and marquee matchups against opponents like Notre Dame, Indiana, Missouri and either Iowa or Quinnipiac.
“I’m excited about this year’s schedule. We have some really good non-conference challenges on the road this season. Our first four games will be against top-25 caliber teams: Missouri, Iowa or Quinnipiac, Notre Dame and Indiana. We’re very appreciative of Notre Dame coming to play us here in Diddle Arena. I think our fans will fill the stands and create that special atmosphere that Diddle has. Our players will be very excited for that game,” Clark-Heard said.
The Lady Toppers return two of their top three scorers (Tashia Brown and Ivy Brown) from their 2016-17 campaign that saw the team sweep both the regular season and C-USA tournament championships. WKU posted a 27-7 record, its third consecutive season with at least 27 victories, and squared off against Ohio State in the opening round of the NCAA Tournament in Lexington, Ky., nearly toppling the Buckeyes in a tight 70-63 decision. Over the last three seasons, WKU has 84 total wins, the most by any C-USA team in a three-year span in conference history.
In addition to Tashia and Ivy Brown, the Lady Toppers also return junior Sidnee Bopp, who posted one of the finest postseason performances in recent memory for WKU, and sophomore Whitney Creech, who became WKU’s first C-USA Freshman of the Week honoree since the 2014-15 season last year. Six newcomers will also be immediately eligible for WKU, including freshmen Terri Smith, Nichel Tampa and Sherry Porter.
WKU will kick off its 2017-18 campaign with an exhibition against Union inside Diddle Arena on Thursday, Nov. 2, and will begin the regular season one week later in a tournament hosted by Iowa. The Lady Toppers will battle Missouri in their opener on Friday, Nov. 10, before squaring off against the winner of Iowa and Quinnipiac on Nov. 11. Quinnipiac reached the Sweet 16 in the 2017 NCAA Tournament as a No. 12 seed, defeating Marquette and Miami (FL) before falling against eventual national champion South Carolina.
The Lady Toppers will open their regular season home schedule in style as they host perennial powerhouse Notre Dame on Tuesday, Nov. 14. The Fighting Irish have reached the Sweet 16 in eight consecutive seasons and have finished as the national runners-up four times over that span; with Notre Dame likely being ranked for the battle against WKU, it will mark the third consecutive season that the Lady Toppers have hosted a ranked opponent inside Diddle Arena. In 2015-16, WKU knocked off then-No. 16 Louisville in a 71-69 upset, and last season the Lady Toppers captured an 85-74 victory over then-No. 23 Indiana early in the season; with those wins, WKU has defeated a ranked opponent in back-to-back years for the first time since the 1996-97 and 1997-98 seasons.
“We’re super excited about hosting Notre Dame here. Year in and year out Notre Dame is at the top of the polls, competing for championships and sending players to the WNBA. We’re so thankful they were willing to come to play us in Bowling Green. This will give our players an opportunity to compete against one of the most tradition-rich programs in the country,” Clark-Heard said. “They’ve won a national championship, been to seven Final Fours and had 19 All-Americans. They will be super strong this season, returning four of five starters from a team that went 33-4 last year. I just had an opportunity to coach Arike Ogunbowale on Team USA. She’ll be a junior for Notre Dame this year and averaged just under 16 points per game last season. This will be a big challenge for us, but most importantly it’ll be a great opportunity for us to see where we stand against the very best.”
Following that marquee home matchup, WKU will go back on the road for the second half of its home-and-home series at Indiana on Friday, Nov. 17, before traveling to Atlanta for Georgia State’s in-season tournament. The Lady Toppers are set to battle Mercer (Friday, Nov. 24) and the host Panthers (Nov. 26) at the event; under Clark-Heard, WKU has won at least one in-season tournament in four of her five seasons at the helm of the program.
WKU will briefly return home for a date against Evansville inside Diddle Arena on Thursday, Nov. 30, before taking a break for exams. Coming out of that time off, the Lady Toppers will face Southern Illinois on the road on Sunday, Dec. 10, before a quick turnaround against Mississippi Valley State in Diddle on Tuesday, Dec. 12.
The Lady Toppers will round out their non-conference schedule with a third in-season tournament in West Palm Beach, Fla., taking on Stetson and Toledo on Dec. 16 and 17, respectively. WKU will remain on the road following that tournament to face Ball State in Muncie, Ind., on Thursday, Dec. 21, and will conclude non-conference play inside Diddle Arena on Friday, Dec. 29, against Lee University.
To begin C-USA play, WKU will battle archrival Middle Tennessee on Thursday, Jan. 4, inside Diddle Arena. One of the top rivalries in C-USA, the Lady Toppers claimed their first regular season sweep of the Blue Raiders since 2004 last season and own three straight victories over Middle Tennessee at home dating back to the 2015 season. The rivalry will be renewed in Murfreesboro, Tenn., on Thursday, Feb. 15, as the Lady Toppers seek back-to-back road wins in the series for the first time since 1993.
“All of the C-USA opponents are tough games, and this year won’t be any different. We’ll start conference play at home against Middle Tennessee and Southern Miss. We’ll need our fans for all of the conference games; his will obviously be Ivy Brown and Tashia Brown’s last season. I know our fans are looking forward to coming to see two young ladies who have meant so much to this program,” Clark-Heard said.
WKU will continue its opening three-game homestand in C-USA play against Southern Miss (Jan. 6) and FIU (Jan. 11), and will open road conference play on Jan. 13 at UAB.
In home battles during conference play, WKU will welcome UTSA (Jan. 18), Florida Atlantic (Feb. 3), Old Dominion (Feb. 8), Marshall (Feb. 17) and Charlotte (Feb. 23) to Diddle Arena, and will go on the road to square off against Marshall (Jan. 21), North Texas (Jan. 26), Louisiana Tech (Jan. 28), Rice (Feb. 10), Southern Miss (March 1) and UTEP (March 3).
The 2018 C-USA Tournament will be hosted at The Ford Center at The Star in Frisco, Texas, marking the first time since WKU has been a member of the league that the tournament will not be held in Birmingham, Ala. Since joining C-USA prior to the 2014-15 season, WKU has claimed two of the three conference tournament titles, including last year’s 67-56 win over Southern Miss inside Legacy Arena to seal the 12th conference tournament championship in school history.
Season ticket renewals will be available in the upcoming weeks while individuals wishing to make new season ticket purchases to see the Lady Toppers are encouraged to call the Ticket Office at 1-800-5-BIG-RED to inquire about ticket opportunities.
For more information on WKU Lady Topper Basketball, visit WKUSports.com or follow the team via social media @LadyTopperHoops on Twitter and Instagram and on Facebook at facebook.com/WKUWomensBasketball.
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Currie P. McFayden
WKU Associate Director of Athletic Communications