Lady Toppers notch program’s 1,000th victory at North Texas

Redshirt junior guard Dee Givens takes a shot during the Lady Toppers’ 85-55 victory over Marshall at Diddle Arena on Saturday.

Drake Kizer

The WKU women’s basketball team maintained its opportunity for a first-round bye in the Conference USA Tournament on Saturday evening, as WKU opened up a two-game winning streak against North Texas.

With the win, the Lady Toppers also became just the 11th program in NCAA Division I women’s basketball history to reach 1,000 all-time victories.

WKU (16-13, 10-5 C-USA) concluded its daunting four-game road swing with a key victory at North Texas (14-13, 7-8 C-USA). The Mean Green out-rebounded WKU 43-24 and outscored the Lady Toppers inside 40-36. But WKU made up for those deficiencies by scoring 23 points on 22 turnovers, notching a tough 71-66 road win in the Super Pit.

“We were doing a decent job of guarding them on the perimeter,” head coach Greg Collins said on the postgame radio show. “We had some trouble with the pick-and-roll again. But again, we’re just not rebounding. You know, we’re trying to box out but we’re not pursuing the ball. We’re going to go back and watch that on film and we’re going to go back to work and try to get better at it.”

The Lady Toppers were led by redshirt junior forward Dee Givens and junior guard Whitney Creech. Givens tallied eight steals, six rebounds and a game-high 24 points. Creech added five assists and a season-high 16 points for the Lady Toppers.

“Some people will sag off and not guard me because they’re anticipating me to pass,” Creech said on the postgame radio show. “If I can prove that I can score, they’re going to have to guard me. If I’m a threat, it kind of helps get everybody else open as well.”

Neither team scored until sophomore forward Raneem Elgedawy sank a layup for WKU at the 8:52 mark of the first quarter. Givens added two makes at the charity stripe, allowing WKU to open the game on a 4-0 run. But North Texas was not fazed, rattling off an 8-0 stretch that gave the Mean Green a sizable advantage.

North Texas extended its scoring run to 10 unanswered following the first quarter media timeout. Redshirt sophomore forward Arame Niang halted the Mean Green’s onslaught with a 3-pointer, making the score 10-7 with 4:20 remaining. Despite not registering a field goal in the last 3:44 of the opening frame, North Texas maintained a 16-11 lead.

Givens kicked off the second quarter with a jumper, drawing the Lady Toppers back to within three early. But WKU could not close the gap, allowing North Texas to push its lead back to six thanks to the Lady Toppers failing to score for nearly two minutes.

Redshirt junior guard Alexis Brewer put WKU back on the board with a 3-pointer at the 5:44 mark, but the Lady Toppers still trailed 20-17. Both North Texas and WKU enjoyed 4-0 scoring runs down the stretch, which kept the game tight. The Mean Green sank two layups with under a minute left, but Creech added a layup of her own at the buzzer.

North Texas lead WKU by four points at halftime, 30-26.

Creech gave WKU the lead early in the third quarter, knocking in an uncontested 3-pointer that put the Lady Toppers in front by one. Creech did not slow down, helping WKU hang tight with two more makes from the field. But the Mean Green refused to go away, resulting in 10 lead changes and 7 ties by the 4:11 mark of the third frame.

Shades of WKU’s last meeting with North Texas loomed large late in the third quarter, as the Lady Toppers built a six-point lead and subsequently allowed a 12-1 run over the final 2:40. The brief meltdown was eerily similar to the 16-0 run WKU surrendered to begin the fourth quarter in its 76-67 home loss against North Texas on Feb. 9.

After beginning the fourth quarter down 55-50, the Lady Toppers refused to let themselves stumble once again. WKU began the final 10 minutes of play on a 7-0 run, as two consecutive buckets from Givens helped the Lady Toppers build a 57-55 lead.

An and-one jumper from Creech granted WKU a 62-58 advantage with 4:23 remaining, but the Mean Green were not going down without a fight. North Texas knotted the game two more times, at 64 and 66 apiece. Givens answered by sinking three late foul shots, while Brewer added two of her own to help WKU clinch a five-point away victory.

Following the win, the Lady Toppers will be off for five days until returning home for a Senior Night rematch with Middle Tennessee (20-8, 11-4 C-USA). The Blue Raiders defeated WKU 81-69 on Feb. 14 in Murfreesboro. The Lady Toppers will be looking for retribution as they conclude the regular season Thursday at 6 p.m. in Diddle Arena.

Women’s basketball reporter Drake Kizer can be reached at 270-745-2653 and [email protected]. Follow him on Twitter at @drakekizer_.