Red-hot Lady Toppers reach 6-game winning streak without starting guard Sherry Porter

Junior guard Sherry Porter (22) looks to drive toward the basket during the Lady Toppers’ 68-59 win over Florida Atlantic in Diddle Arena on Thursday, Jan. 30 in Bowling Green.

Matt Gadd

Prior to last weekend, the WKU women’s basketball team (16-6, 8-3 C-USA) had stumbled to a 5-6 mark away from Diddle Arena during the 2019-20 season. The Lady Toppers erased that deficit over the weekend, picking up a pair of solid road wins at Louisiana Tech (11-11, 3-8 C-USA) and Southern Mississippi (11-11, 3-8 C-USA) to improve to 7-6 on the road.

The Lady Toppers’ two-game road trip was made even more strenuous after head coach Greg Collins announced last week that junior guard Sherry Porter had suffered an MCL injury during the third quarter of a 71-51 win over Florida International on Feb. 1.

Collins said Porter’s knee injury would prevent her from playing against LA Tech and Southern Miss, and the rehabilitation process would likely keep her on the shelf “for a while.”

“She wants to be out there,” Collins said. “We want her to be out there, but right now it’s just week-by-week. One of the things I tell [the team] is we need everybody. For us, the strength of this team is the team, and we need everybody to kind of fill up that space.”

Instead of sulking after losing one of their key players, the Lady Toppers kept their heads held high and individually stepped up to rally around their injured teammate.

Redshirt senior guard Alexis Brewer slotted back into the starting lineup over the weekend, finishing 6-of-8 from behind the three-point line across two starts.

“We’re trying to manage her energy, and I played her way more minutes than I wanted to,” Collins said. “I felt like I had to. I was trying to give her the rest that she needed because she’s just not at 100% right now, and I don’t want to exhaust her to the point where she’s not able to play again on Saturday or not able to bounce back and play again the next weekend.”

Sophomore guard Meral Abdelgawad racked up 13 points and a career-high 15 rebounds against LA Tech to tally her first career double-double. The Cairo, Egypt, native dedicated her performance to Porter, writing No. 22 on the athletic tape she wore on her wrist.

Collins said Porter is “a good ball hawk” that pressures the ball defensively, so he called upon Abdelgawad to play out of position at the spot Porter usually occupies on the floor.

“Meral was huge,” Collins said. “She’s one of those glue kids. She just makes everything work better on the floor because she’s passionate, she plays hard and she’s unselfish.”

The Lady Toppers finished with five players in double figures for the first time since Dec. 8, 2018, against LA Tech. Redshirt senior forward Dee Givens’ 26 points and senior point guard Whitney Creech’s points-assists double-double were crucial against Southern Miss.

“We really tried to play for Sherry,” Brewer said. “We know how hard it is to have an injury and not be able to play and wanting to be out there. We really came together as a team and left it all out there for her.”

The Lady Topper basketball program hasn’t made an NCAA Tournament appearance since former head coach Michelle Clark-Heard guided WKU to the Big Dance in 2018, but NCAA basketball expert Michelle Smith believes that will change this postseason.

According to an article published Feb. 7, Smith filled out a bracket based on everything she’s seen in women’s college basketball so far this season, and she predicted WKU will be in the field when it’s revealed during the selection show on Monday, March 16.

Smith predicted No. 12 seed WKU will meet No. 5 seed Florida State in the first round. The Lady Toppers are an at-large selection in Smith’s bracket, as she picked projected No. 11 seed Rice to win the Conference USA Tournament and the league’s automatic qualifier spot.

RPI is an advanced metric used by the selection committee to select 32 at-large tournament teams and determine appropriate seeding for 32 automatic qualifiers. At press time, the Lady Toppers were listed at No. 30 in the NCAA women’s basketball RPI rankings.

The Lady Toppers have earned national respect, but WKU will earn more if it can extend its current six-game winning streak after hosting Texas-El Paso (13-9, 6-5 C-USA) and Texas-San Antonio (6-16, 2-9 C-USA) in Diddle Arena on Thursday and Saturday, respectively.

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