‘Blood, sweat and tears’: Collins, Clark-Heard push Lady Toppers to 8th straight 20-win season

Lady Toppers’ head coach Greg Collins instructs the team during their 75-60 win over Old Dominion on Saturday at Diddle Arena.

Matt Gadd

The WKU women’s basketball team (20-6, 12-3 C-USA) entered its 2019-20 campaign as one of only 18 Division I teams with an active streak of at least seven 20-win seasons, and the Lady Toppers successfully set a new program record with eight straight 20-win seasons by defeating Marshall (11-15, 6-9 C-USA) and Florida Atlantic (12-14, 6-9 C-USA) over the weekend.

The previous program record for consecutive seasons with 20 or more wins was seven. That long-standing mark was established by former Lady Topper head coach Paul Sanderford, a recent nominee for the Women’s Basketball Hall of Fame, from 1982 to 1989.

A combined effort from former Lady Topper head coach Michelle Clark-Heard and second-year head coach Greg Collins — who served as an assistant coach under Clark-Heard for six seasons — finally toppled Sanderford’s vaunted streak of consecutive 20-win seasons.

“[Paul Sanderford] is a Hall of Fame coach, and he has 99.9% of all the records that are here, so if I got one, I got one I can tease him about just for a little bit,” Collins said with a hearty laugh. “We got to eight and he couldn’t get past seven, so I’m going to let him have that one a little bit, but it won’t go very far.”

Collins said Clark-Heard had a vision for the program, and it took a lot of work from both of them — along with players, fans and the administration — to get WKU “back to where it was.”

“I wanted to get to 20 for Todd Stewart and for this program,” Collins said. “There has been a lot of blood, sweat and tears to get to this point. I am really proud of this accomplishment.”

The 2018-19 Lady Topper squad didn’t notch its 20th win until game No. 34 — a 68-65 home victory over Morehead State in the WNIT that pushed WKU to 20-14 on March 24, 2019.

The 2019-20 Lady Toppers obliterated the benchmark set by their predecessors, reaching their 20th win one month quicker with a 69-56 triumph in FAU’s RoofClaim.com Arena on Feb. 22.

“It means a lot to keep the streak going,” senior point guard Whitney Creech said. “You don’t want to be the team that ends the streak, so we’re just trying to win games every day. We just want to get more than 20 wins this season. We want to keep on rolling — get to 21, 22.”

WKU adopted a “one-game championship” mentality after dropping three of its first five games in Conference USA play, and now the Lady Toppers haven’t lost a single decision since a 76-65 road defeat in Old Dominion’s Chartway Arena on Jan. 16.

Defense and rebounding have been WKU’s main focus during the closing stretch of the regular season, and the Lady Toppers will continue emphasizing those areas as they battle ODU and Rice for a shot at the coveted No. 1 seed in the upcoming C-USA Tournament.

Alexandria, Egypt, native Raneem Elgedawy recorded double-doubles against both Marshall and FAU, reaching her seventh double-double in her last nine outings.

Elgedawy tallied 17 points and 12 rebounds against the Thundering Herd, and she followed that up with 20 points and 14 rebounds against the Owls. FAU held Elgedawy to two points and five boards in the first half, but she exploded for 18 points and nine rebounds after halftime.

Creech and redshirt senior forward Dee Givens combined for 10 steals and one block across two games over the weekend, showcasing the type of defensive effort Collins said he’s been looking for every time his team takes the hardwood.

The Lady Toppers will play just once this week, travelling to Murfreesboro, Tennessee, for a repeat matchup against rival Middle Tennessee State (18-9, 10-5 C-USA) on Saturday.

WKU defeated MTSU 71-63 in Diddle Arena on Jan. 11, but the Blue Raiders will get a crack at halting their nemesis’ 10-game winning streak in the Murphy Center on Feb. 29.

“We’ve won a couple of games and we’ve kind of got ourselves in a spot where we can compete for a bye in this conference tournament,” Collins said. “We can’t look at the big picture behind us. We have to stay focused on the game and the moment and the minute in front of us.”

The Lady Toppers and MTSU will get started at 5 p.m. on ESPN3.

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