Western Kentucky holds off Southern Miss, wins another league title

BIRMINGHAM, Ala. -- Alexis Govan did it all with the game on the line: making free throws, taking a charge and grabbing a rebound.

Govan scored 22 points and made two free throws with 23 seconds left and Western Kentucky held on for a 60-57 win over Southern Mississippi Saturday night in the Conference USA tournament championship game.

"I looked at her and said, `Alexis, that ball's going to you,'" Western Kentucky coach Michelle Clark-Heard said. "When she went to the free throw line, I don't look at her because I don't want to make her nervous."

Govan, who missed most of last season with a broken leg, delivered and was named tournament Most Valuable Player.

The regular-season champion Lady Toppers (30-4) lost a 14-point lead before regrouping to earn their second straight NCAA tournament bid. It comes a year after winning the Sun Belt tournament.

It's the first time Western Kentucky has won back-to-back league tournaments since a six-year streak from 1986-93. The Lady Toppers won the three tournament games by three points or less.

"When you and your coach all have the same mindset throughout the whole game and know you're never out of it and believe in each other, you're always fine," Govan said. "You always know you're going to be OK."

Southern Miss (22-10) called timeout to set up a final play with 13 seconds remaining. Alex Coyne drove the lane but her contested layup missed and Govan grabbed the rebound. She was fouled with .4 seconds left and made two more free throws.

C-USA player of the year Chastity Gooch added 18 points on 6-of-9 shooting for Western Kentucky. Govan also had seven rebounds and six assists.

Kendall Noble, the league's defensive player of the year, had five steals, six points and five rebounds.

Jerontay Clemons led Southern Miss with 13 points. Tamara Jones added eight points and 10 rebounds.

"We had every opportunity to win," Lady Eagles coach Joye Lee-McNelis said. "We had every shot that you can ask to shoot. We had players we depended on all year to take shots and unfortunately the ball just didn't bounce our way.

"We're sick to know that you come so close to be able to be in the Big Dance and not get that opportunity."

Clemons missed a couple of minutes late after getting hurt in a collision. Shortly after returning, she had a steal and layup, was fouled and made the free throw for a three-point lead.

Brooke Rhodes buried a 3-pointer with 2:30 left to push it to 57-53.

After Noble made 1 of 2 free throws, Southern Miss worked the shot clock all the way down before missing, but retained possession when the ball went out of bounds.

Then Govan drew a charging foul to set up Noble's jumper with 54 seconds left, cutting it to 57-56. Jones missed a short jumper in traffic to give the Lady Toppers a chance to retake the lead, and Govan cashed in at the line.

Southern Miss had wiped out a 14-point deficit by starting the second half on a 15-4 run.

"We got down in that first half," Lee-McNelis said. "It was really ugly. They were throwing a lot of different defenses at us. We didn't handle that, and that's where we dug our hole."


The Lady Toppers had used a buzz saw of a 24-4 run to turn a six-point deficit into a 33-19 lead late in the first half. Govan scored 12 of those points, including a 3-pointer that marked Western Kentucky's eighth consecutive made basket. The Lady Toppers were 10-of-11 shooting during that span while Southern Miss missed 11 of 12 shots.


Western Kentucky burned the Lady Eagles for 52 percent shooting (15-of-29) in the first half. In the second, the Lady Toppers were just 8-of-26 shooting (30.8 percent) and missed all nine 3-point attempts.


Southern Miss: Now 0-3 in Conference USA championship games. Made all nine free throw attempts.

Western Kentucky: Extended winning streak to 12 games. Had 11 steals and forced 18 turnovers.


Southern Miss: Awaits postseason fate, hoping for first NCAA tournament bid since 1996.

Western Kentucky: Advances to NCAA field.