Whitney Creech, Sherry Porter guide Lady Toppers to 3-1 start

WKU forward Dee Givens (4) shoots the ball over Central Michigan forward Gabrielle Bird (33). The Lady Toppers defeated the Chippewas 93 – 58 in Diddle Arena on Sunday, November 17 2019.

Jesse Spencer

The WKU women’s basketball team (3-1) picked up a pair of victories over 2019 NCAA Tournament teams by 30-plus points last week, as the Lady Toppers blew out Belmont 77-46 on Wednesday and annihilated Central Michigan 93-58 on Sunday.

Both contests were part of WKU’s brutal non-conference schedule, which featured five straight games to open the regular season against NCAA Tournament teams from a year ago.

Of the Lady Toppers’ first five opponents, four were picked to win their respective conferences in the preseason polls — No. 9 Louisville in the ACC, Mercer in the Southern Conference, Belmont in the Ohio Valley Conference and Little Rock in the Sun Belt.

The first five teams on the 2019-20 slate for head coach Greg Collins’ squad combined for a 129-38 record last season, but the Lady Toppers have won three out of four heading into their matchup with Little Rock this weekend by outworking and outrebounding their opponents.

WKU took down Belmont by forcing the Bruins into 24 turnovers and converting these transition opportunities into 27 points. The Lady Toppers also showcased their shooting abilities, hitting seven more 3-pointers than the Bruins and knocking down 72% of their 25 free-throw attempts.

The Lady Toppers then blew out CMU, outrebounding the Chippewas 48-24 and scoring 24 second-chance points. WKU’s shooting splits were also exceptional, as the Lady Toppers shot 50% from the field, 43% from behind the arc and 80% from the charity stripe.

While stellar team stats tell a big part of the story for the Lady Toppers’ early success, two players have quietly taken WKU from a middling Conference USA team to a potential March contender  — senior point guard Whitney Creech and junior guard Sherry Porter.

“When they [Creech and Porter] shoot, you have a problem,” Collins said. “You know Dee Givens can score. You know Raneem [Elgedawy] can score around the basket. So if Whitney is finding another 1,000 points or so and Sherry is going to score and hit threes like she did today, then you’ve got some problems on the defensive end.”

Collins called out Creech at the beginning of the year, making a statement that she had to be more aggressive offensively and score the ball for the Lady Toppers to have success.

So far, Creech has answered Collins’ challenge in a big way.

Creech began the season with a 10-point performance against No. 9 Louisville. She followed a solid first game against a tough opponent with 17 huge points against Mercer. She put up 15 points and six assists against Belmont and poured in 18 against CMU.

“I think this year I’m just being more aggressive and assertive on the offensive end,” Creech said. “I’m not letting the team go too fast every time, but I’m looking for my shot as well. I think that has opened up my game a lot.”

The Jenkins native focused primarily on being a facilitator throughout her college career, averaging only 5.6 points per game over her first three years.

Conversely, Creech is averaging 15 points per game so far this season and has bolstered the Lady Topper offensive attack substantially.

Porter has also been on a tear this season, scoring a team-high 15 points against Louisville. 

She cooled off for only eight points against Mercer, but rebounded well for 12 points against Belmont. She then stepped up substantially in the win over CMU, collecting 17 big points by hitting four of her five 3-pointers.

Collins believes Porter’s confidence coming into games has allowed her to become a consistent threat from the field this season.

“She’s put the time in,” Collins said. “She put the time in over the summer. She puts the time in before and after practice. She puts time in even on her off days. The kid is working hard, and that gives you confidence. She comes in the game knowing that she can play.”

Porter has been working on her game all off-season, but she said she’s not concerned about her individual accomplishments.

“I’ve been in the gym working on that three, and it’s something that’s coming,” Porter said. “But that’s not my main focus. My main focus is whatever the team needs. So, in the first few games if that’s what the team needs from me, then that’s what they get.”

The Lady Toppers will continue to lean on Creech and Porter to supplement proven offensive threats Givens and Elgedawy when they take on Little Rock (1-3) on Sunday afternoon.

Collins and the Lady Toppers traveled to UALR last season, picking up a 68-56 road win against the Trojans on Dec. 1, 2018, thanks to a career-high 21 boards from Elgedawy.

WKU will look to grab its fourth win of the season in Diddle Arena at 2 p.m. The game will be streamed live for ESPN+ subscribers.

Reporter Jesse Spencer can be reached at [email protected] Follow Jesse on Twitter at @jesse_spencer_5.