Quit Stahl-ing: Lady Toppers’ struggles come from within

Junior Whitney Creech aims for the basket during the Lady Toppers’ loss to North Texas at Diddle Arena on Saturday, Feb. 9, 2019.

Matt Stahl

Despite holding an 8-3 Conference USA record and boasting some of the best players in the conference, the Lady Toppers have a serious problem: they can’t defend, and they can’t rebound.

Coach Greg Collins’ squad just suffered through its worst home-stand in recent memory, dropping a tough one to C-USA leader Rice and falling in an ugly game to North Texas. Especially in the second game, the defense looked atrocious, particularly when it allowed the Mean Green to go on a 16-0 run to take the lead at the beginning of the fourth quarter.

“It wasn’t the fourth quarter,” Collins said after the game. “It was the beginning of the game, and it’s been the last, really, it’s been the last 20 games. We don’t rebound, we don’t box out, we don’t defend.”

Collins is absolutely right about his team: in both games, the opposition was able to get whatever shots it wanted, and with many of the Lady Toppers’ offensive stars going quiet, it was never able to break open games the way it usually does.

“Our practice is probably 75 to 80 percent defense and rebounding,” Collins said. “We still have a greater sense of pride in our ability to shoot the ball than we are getting stops, so until that changes, the results aren’t going to change.”

On the boards, the Lady Toppers looked the worst they have all season. Raneem Elgedawy, who is generally one of the stars, has looked a little lost, but she was hardly the problem, as the rest of the team contributed little to none in the rebounding department.

It’s entirely a fixable issue, and the team seems to know it.

“I think rebounding is just an all-out effort thing,” junior guard Whitney Creech said. “You just have to want to put a body on someone, box them out and go get it.”

Collins pointed out after the UNT game that the Lady Toppers are often able to disguise their issues with different looks and schemes, but in the final minutes of that contest, it became clear the jig was up. The Lady Toppers were outrebounded 37-24, and it felt like a bigger differential than that.

Where the Mean Green absolutely dominated was the offensive boards, coming down with 19 compared to the Lady Toppers’ 12, which is unacceptable by any standard. The Lady Toppers will have to be better, as the road doesn’t get easier from here, especially if attitudes on the team, which Collins criticized after the game, don’t improve.

“Right now we have players that if they score 18 points and we lose, they’re OK,” Collins said. “And that’s not OK.”

If the team can’t find a way to fix the problem now that it’s been exposed, the rest of the season will be a painful stretch. Even worse, there’s not much time to pull it together before it heads to Frisco, Texas, for the C-USA Tournament, which it’s won three of the last four years.

That stretch of dominance appears to be in serious jeopardy if the Lady Toppers can’t look inside themselves and find some defense. However, this team has immense talent, and now that it’s had a wake-up call, maybe it’ll be able to pull it together.

Or maybe the team’s shots will start falling and everything will be fine. Either one will probably work.

Sports Editor Matt Stahl can be reached at 270-745-6291 and [email protected]. Follow him on Twitter @mattstahl97.