Lady Toppers utilize ‘championship’ mentality in much-needed home wins over FAU, FIU

Raneem Elgedawy high-fives her teammates coming off the court after WKU’s game against Florida Atlantic on Thursday, Jan. 30. The Toppers won 68-59 in Diddle Arena.

Matt Gadd

Although the WKU women’s basketball team (14-6, 6-3 C-USA) welcomed Conference USA bottom feeders Florida Atlantic (9-12, 3-7 C-USA) and Florida International (5-16, 2-8 C-USA) to Diddle Arena over the weekend, the Lady Toppers retained sharp, winning focus by treating each of their contests against the lowly Owls and Panthers like “a championship ball game.”

“You’ve got to have that mindset that there’s not a night off,” head coach Greg Collins said. “If you’re going to have a shot at the bye or this conference, you’ve got to show up every night, and you’ve got to have that mindset regardless of what that opponent’s conference record is.”

The Lady Topper program held an 18-2 advantage against FAU and a 30-9 lead over FIU in its respective all-time series with the two Florida schools, but wins in prior seasons didn’t help WKU uphold the unblemished home mark its posted during the 2019-20 campaign.

Instead, the Lady Toppers improved to a perfect 8-0 record in Bowling Green and maintained their status as one of under 30 teams in the nation with a sterling home record this season by controlling the glass on both ends of the floor and playing stellar defense.

“I think in this conference, anybody can beat anybody on any given night,” senior point guard Whitney Creech said. “Anybody can come in and knock down some shots and stuff like that. We just can’t overlook them. We have to prepare like we’re playing any other team in the country and just come out and play hard and rebound.”

Across two victories, WKU outrebounded FAU and FIU by a combined 86-49 margin. The Lady Toppers allowed nine offensive rebounds and seven second-chance points in their 68-59 win over the Owls on Thursday, and the team followed that up by allowing just four offensive rebounds and three second-chance points in Saturday’s 71-51 win over the Panthers.

“The credit goes to the whole team,” Collins said. “I felt like we kept applying defensive pressure and doing a good job on the defensive boards.”

Junior forward Raneem Elgedawy was also dominant on the glass, as she has been all season for the Lady Toppers. The Alexandria, Egypt, native is averaging 17.5 points and 10.5 rebounds per game, and she notched her ninth and 10th double-doubles of the year over the weekend.

Elgedawy picked up her second- and third-straight double-doubles against the pair of opponents from Florida, and Collins said Elgedawy is “the anchor for just about everything” the Lady Toppers want to do in the middle of their offensive sets.

“I don’t think it matters whether a team is from Florida or Texas or Tennessee,” Collins said. “I think when she gets locked in from the beginning of the game, she’s pretty good for the whole game.”

While the Lady Toppers were great defensively over the weekend, their shooting from behind the three-point line was abysmal — WKU shot a mere 14% from deep against FAU and improved to a less-than-stellar 29% clip from beyond the arc against FIU.

The Lady Toppers are currently ranked No. 9 among C-USA schools in three-point field goal percentage with a 29% mark from deep this season, but Collins said the team’s shooting woes will pass as conference play continues to unfold.

“I can promise you they are shooting lights out in practice and shootaround,” Collins said. “Every day we have practice and shootaround I think, ‘Alright, today’s the day.’ And then we get into the game — I think the facility must be changing the rims when we leave that shootaround because that rim must be small. We got too many experienced young ladies that can shoot the ball for this to go on indefinitely. But if it does, we are just going to keep rebounding.”

The Lady Toppers will now head to Ruston, Louisiana, to face Louisiana Tech (10-10, 2-7 C-USA) on Thursday at 6:30 p.m. before traveling to Hattiesburg, Mississippi, for a tilt against Southern Mississippi (11-9, 3-6 C-USA) on Saturday at 4 p.m.

Reporter Matt Gadd can be reached at [email protected] Follow Matt on Twitter at @themattgadd.