The WKU women’s basketball team (8-5, 0-2 C-USA) lost its third straight game on Saturday afternoon, as the Lady Toppers fell 73-65 against preseason Conference USA favorite Rice (7-6, 2-0 C-USA) and stayed winless against league foes during the 2019-20 season in Tudor Fieldhouse in Houston.
“They were locked in and ready to play,” head coach Greg Collins said about his team’s effort. “They knew what we had to do to win the ball game. I’m really proud of the effort. There are still things we need to work on and clean up and do a better job of, but I’m proud of the intensity and focus and the effort on our ball movement.”
WKU was looking to bounce back after dropping its C-USA opener against North Texas on Thursday, but the Lady Toppers faced a tough draw against Rice, a team that had defeated WKU in the last three meetings between the two league rivals.
The Lady Toppers’ efforts to snap their two-game losing streak were made even more difficult by the 15 personal fouls WKU was called for in the second half, which resulted in 21 points at the free-throw line and allowed the Owls to escape with a win despite failing to convert a field goal in the last 6:57 of clock time.
“I’m just ticked off,” Collins said about an abundance of foul calls. “I am really sick and tired of the officiating in this conference being so unbalanced toward the home team. Every time we travel someplace it’s drastically unbalanced for the home team.”
“[Rice] had 26 points from the free-throw line — they scored 73 in total,” Collins continued. “They were playing [man defense], and I am getting tired of Raneem Elgedawy getting pushed and held and grabbed and then down on the other end gets called for that. There will be a phone call made tomorrow morning, I promise.”
The Lady Toppers were outrebounded 38-31, but WKU won the scoring battle in the paint 36-30, forced 20 Rice turnovers and scored six more second-chance points.
Junior forward Raneem Elgedawy led the Lady Toppers with a team-high 23 points and nine rebounds. Redshirt senior forward Dee Givens tallied 15 points, while senior point guard Whitney Creech added 14 points and seven assists for WKU.
Redshirt freshman guard Myriah Haywood got her first career start in place of junior guard Sherry Porter, but the duo combined for just five points scored during the contest.
Rice shot 47% from the field compared to the 38% mark posted by WKU, and the Owls also shot 36 free throws compared to the Lady Toppers’ 14 attempts at the foul line.
Freshman forward Lauren Schwartz scored 21 points to lead the Owls, while 2019 C-USA Player of the Year Erica Ogwumike had 18 points and 12 rebounds for Rice.
2019 C-USA Defensive Player of the Year Nancy Mulkey had 10 points and seven rebounds, while junior guard Sydne Wiggins contributed 17 points in 38 minutes of action.
The Owls came out with a score from Schwartz to take an early lead shortly after the game’s opening tipoff, but Elgedawy responded with a jumper in the opening minute to tie the game.
WKU took a 4-2 lead off a driving layup from Givens at the 8:38 minute mark. Sophomore guard Meral Abdelgawad was fouled on the next drive, and she made both of her attempts at the foul line to give the Lady Toppers a 6-2 lead at the 7:33 minute mark.
Givens extended the hot start for the Lady Toppers with a 3-pointer from deep, granting WKU a 13-4 lead with 5:54 left in the opening quarter. The Owls came back with five consecutive points from Mulkey and Ogwumike to make the score 13-9.
At the first media timeout of the game, the Lady Toppers held a 15-9 lead over the league’s preseason favorite with 4:20 left in the opening quarter.
Rice turned the ball over seven times in roughly the first five minutes of the game, but Schwartz made a layup coming out of the media timeout and cut the Owls’ deficit to 15-11 with 4:18 left in the first quarter.
Schwartz brought the Owls within one on a three-pointer that gave the freshman her seventh point of the matinee, but Creech returned with a jumper of her own to make it 17-14 Lady Toppers at the 2:32 mark.
At the end of the first quarter, the Lady Toppers held a 17-15 lead with the help of eight points from Elgedawy and a 3-pointer from Givens.
An Ogwumike layup tied the game at 17-17 to open the second frame of play. Elgedawy responded with a 3-pointer, giving WKU 20-17 lead at the 9:02 mark.
Givens continued her solid play from deep and made her second 3-pointer of the day at the 8:12 mark to give the Lady Toppers a 23-19 advantage. Mulkey’s trip to the charity stripe resulted in a 1-of-2 performance, and Rice pulled within three points at the 7:47 mark.
Elgedawy made a layup at the 6:20 mark, but Wiggins made a layup for the Owls and pulled her squad to just a 25-22 deficit at the 6:03 mark.
Elgedawy answered with another layup and a free throw to extend the WKU lead 28-22 at the 5:42 mark, which was just before the second media timeout of the game.
Schwartz pulled her team within two, and Mulkey tied the game at 28-28 with 3:28 left before the halftime break.
Haywood, who earned her first start of the season for WKU, committed her third foul of the game with 2:24 left in the first half. Redshirt senior forward Sandra Skinner revived the lead for the Lady Toppers at the 2:06 mark by putting WKU up 30-29.
Elgedawy was fouled with 1:13 left in the half, and she went 1 for 2 on the line. She continued her first-half surge by scoring a team-high 19 points on a last-second layup.
WKU held a 33-29 lead over the Owls at the half. Elgedawy had made eight shots from the field, went 1 for 2 from atop the arc and netted 2-of-3 free throws after 20 minutes of clock time.
The Lady Toppers also had 13 points off turnovers and four fast-break points at the break.
Haywood picked up her fourth foul early in the second half, and she was substituted for Porter. Schwartz made both of her shots on the charity stripe, making the score 33-31 in WKU’s favor.
The Owls continued surging out of the break, going on a 4-0 run before Givens made a 3-pointer at the 8:28 mark to make it 36-35 WKU.
Rice sophomore guard Jasmine Smith was fouled and made both free throws to make the score 38-36 Owls at the 8:06 mark.
Creech made a jumper at the 7:49 mark to tie the game at 38-38, but Mulkey was fouled and made both free-throw attempts to take a 40-38 lead. Creech made her second consecutive scoring play to tie the game 40-40 with 7:22 left in the third.
Both teams continued to trade scoring blows, and the score was tied at 42-42 during the third media timeout of the game, which came with 4:57 left to play in the third period.
Porter made her first 3-pointer of the game with 4:22 left in the third quarter, giving the Lady Toppers a 45-42 lead. Porter then was fouled on a fast break and shot 2-2 on the charity stripe.
Junior forward Fatou Pouye made a layup following the free throws, and the Owls called their first timeout at the 3:38 mark in the third quarter of play.
WKU was on an 8-0 run prior to the stoppage and led Rice 48-42, but Ogwumike broke the Owls’ scoreless streak at the 2:26 mark.
Creech got the Lady Toppers to 50 points on the day with a layup that made the score 50-44 at the 2:09 mark. Blows continued to be traded, as Givens made a jumper and Schwartz scored a layup in the last minute of the third quarter.
At the end of the third quarter, the Lady Toppers led 52-49. Elgedawy was atop the scoring sheet with 21 for the Lady Toppers, and Givens already had 13 on the day.
Wiggins sank a 3-pointer to open the final quarter of play, tying the game at 52-52. Freshman guard Destiny Jackson gave Rice a 54-52 lead, forcing a WKU timeout with 8:36 remaining.
Creech made a jumper to put WKU on the score sheet for the first time in the final quarter of play, and her shot made it 55-54 Owls at the 6:57 mark.
Wiggins responded with an Owl 3-pointer, making the score 58-54 for Rice.
Givens pulled the Lady Toppers within two at 58-56 on a driving layup at the 6:36 mark, but Schwartz was fouled at the 5:25 mark and made the score 60-56 Owls.
Givens was called for a foul at the 4:36 mark, and Wiggins shot 2 for 2 on the charity stripe to put the Owls up 62-56.
Pouye had a chance on the foul line at the 4:20 mark, and she shot 2 for 2 to make it 62-58. At this point of the contest, the Lady Toppers had five fouls in the fourth quarter alone.
Rice called a timeout at the 3:36 mark, and Elgedawy soon committed a foul at the 2:47 mark, allowing Mulkey to go 1 for 2 from the foul line and make the score 63-58.
Creech drew a foul at the 2:28 mark and shot 2 for 2 on the charity stripe, making it a one-possession game with the Owls leading 63-60.
Pouye committed a last-minute foul at the 1:28 mark in the final frame, and Mulkey made both shots from the foul line to make the score 65-60 in the Owls’ favor.
Porter drew a foul at the 1:16 mark and made one of her shots, drawing the game within five points. Pouye followed that up by committing her game-ending foul, which allowed Ogwumike to go to the free-throw line and give the Owls a 66-61 advantage.
Creech responded with a layup with 44 ticks left in the matinee game. Schwartz was fouled by Creech with 42 seconds left, and she made both attempts to give the Owls a 68-63 lead.
Elgedawy and Porter committed fouls in the final moments, which allowed Ogwumike and Wiggins to essentially seal the game for the Owls at the charity stripe.
Elgedawy made a last-ditch effort for the Lady Toppers, scoring a layup with six seconds left in the game, but the Owls held on for a eight-point win on their home floor.
Following the loss, the Lady Toppers will return home for an early-afternoon C-USA matchup against league opponent Alabama-Birmingham (9-5, 1-1 C-USA) next week.
WKU hasn’t played a home game since a 74-63 win over Power 5 Oklahoma on Dec. 4, but that streak will end when the Lady Toppers host the Blazers for their annual Education Day game.
As part of the special event, most of the seats in Diddle Arena will be filled with screaming students from local Bowling Green and Warren County schools.
Tipoff in Diddle Arena is slated for 11 a.m. on Jan. 9.
The game will be available on C-USA TV.
Reporter Nick Kieser can be reached at [email protected] Follow Nick on Twitter at @KieserNick.