Lady Toppers advance to C-USA semifinals with victory over Old Dominion

Junior guard Whitney Creech drives the lane during the Lady Toppers’ 74-60 win over Old Dominion in the quarterfinals of the Conference USA tournament in Frisco, Texas.

Drake Kizer

The WKU women’s basketball team extended its winning streak to four games in the quarterfinals of the Conference USA Tournament on Thursday afternoon, as WKU kept its “six-game championship” hopes alive against the Old Dominion Lady Monarchs.

(4) WKU improved to 18-13 overall, utilizing its first-round bye to outlast (5) ODU. The Lady Toppers executed to perfection, shooting 47 percent from the floor and notching a rare win in the rebounding battle, 50-40. WKU also excelled in transition, tallying 14 fast break points and 44 paint points in a decisive 74-60 win in the Ford Center at The Star.

“About time,” head coach Greg Collins said about his team taking pride in their defensive effort. “I felt like we started this at the beginning of the season – trying to catch our defense up. And we’ve got a lot of players on the positive side that like – and can – score, and so we really worked hard on the fundamentals of defense.”

The Lady Toppers were led by sophomore forward Raneem Elgedawy and junior guard Whitney Creech. Elgedawy posted a dominating double-double, racking up 20 points and 15 rebounds.

Creech nearly collected a triple-double, as the red-hot hand finished with 16 points, 10 rebounds and six assists in 39 minutes of action for WKU. Redshirt junior forward Dee Givens (14) and redshirt junior guard Alexis Brewer (11) also finished in double-figures for the Lady Toppers.

“You can’t just pinpoint one player that you’re going to say, ‘I’m going to lock her down’ because we have other players who can put the ball in the basket,” Creech said. “So, I think it makes us very difficult to guard when we have more than one scoring threat.”

WKU took an early 2-0 lead after Elgedawy put back a missed 3-pointer from Brewer, but ODU answered with an and-one layup on the other end. A similar scenario played out for the rest of the first frame, as Elgedawy continued to dominate inside and racked up 11 points to go along with three boards.

The cat-and-mouse game also endured during the opening period, which saw six ties and 10 lead changes between the Lady Toppers and the Lady Monarchs. WKU built a four-point lead twice in the last 1:10 of the frame, but ODU finished the period down only 22-21 after sophomore guard Victoria Morris drilled a 3-pointer with 0:25 to play.

After freshman guard/forward Ajah Wayne gave the Lady Monarchs a one-point advantage to open the second quarter, the Lady Toppers responded with a 5-0 run. The scoring stretch, capped by back-to-back fast break layups, forced ODU to call for a timeout down 27-23 with 7:36 left to play in the frame.

WKU’s scoring stretch extended to 7-0 and its lead stretched to six after Elgedawy drilled yet another layup following the timeout, but the Lady Monarchs were not ready to go away. Even after falling behind 34-25, ODU was able to mount a 6-0 run to cut its deficit to only three points despite converting only two of its last 13 field goals.

A late basket from redshirt sophomore post Arame Niang allowed WKU to push its lead a bit further at the halftime break, 36-31.

A pair of free throws from Brewer 10 seconds into the second half extended the Lady Toppers’ lead back to seven points, which is about where it stayed until a stoppage with 4:55 left to play in the third quarter. At that juncture, ODU was trailing 49-43.

But the Lady Monarchs still wanted to reign supreme, chipping away at their deficit by making shots at the free-throw line. Even when a Brewer 3-pointer gave WKU a 56-45 lead with 1:55 remaining, ODU did not give in, mounting a late and scrappy 6-0 run.

Freshman guard Meral Abdelgawad netted a layup with 0:07 left before the fourth quarter got underway, pushing the Lady Toppers to a 58-51 lead to end the third frame.

Creech led a charge that nearly put ODU away for good, adding cushion for WKU with a layup and two foul shots that kickstarted a 5-0 run to start the fourth quarter.

Once again, the Lady Monarchs refused to step aside. ODU crafted a 7-0 run that allowed its squad to get back in the thick of things with 5:07 left, down only 63-58.

Play paused for the fourth quarter media timeout three seconds later, marking 2:35 of clock time without a basket by the Lady Toppers. With time winding down on the season for one squad, WKU tightened up and secured itself another day on the hardwood.

The Lady Toppers concluded the last five minutes of the game on a 11-2 run, ending any hope of a comeback from the Lady Monarchs. ODU fought hard until the end, but since they did not score in the last 3:03, WKU escaped with a 14-point win on day two.

Following the win, WKU advanced to the semifinals of the C-USA Tournament. The Lady Toppers, who have claimed two consecutive C-USA championships, are now slated to face (1) Rice. The Owls defeated (9) North Texas 61-43 earlier today. WKU will attempt to avenge its 68-46 home loss tomorrow evening at 5:30 p.m in Frisco, Texas.

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