Dee Givens joins exclusive company, helps Lady Toppers get back on track

The WKU Lady Toppers welcomed the North Texas Mean Green to Diddle Arena on Saturday. WKU was defeated 76-67 for their second consecutive loss. CHRIS KOHLEY/HERALD

Drake Kizer

The WKU women’s basketball team headed to Huntington, West Virginia, for its third of four straight Conference USA road games last week mired in a four-game losing skid.

The Lady Toppers, tied for fifth place in C-USA standings, were aware that a season sweep over Marshall (15-12, 9-5 C-USA) would give them a tiebreaker for fourth place and allow them to inch closer to clinching a first-round bye in the C-USA tournament.

“Since we got back into practice on Tuesday, we’ve said this is a championship ballgame because this’ll define whether we’re going to get a shot at a bye,” head coach Greg Collins said. “We still have two more games—two more tough games—after this one, but if we don’t take care of business in this one, it puts us in a lot different situation than if we win.”

WKU (15-13, 9-5 C-USA) separated itself from the pack, as the Lady Toppers snapped their losing streak and lifted themselves into a tie with Marshall for fourth place.

Though both squads are 9-5 in C-USA play, the Lady Toppers now own the head-to-head tiebreaker after previously defeating Marshall 85-55 on Jan. 12 in Diddle Arena.

The Lady Toppers dominated inside against the Thundering Herd, claiming victory by crashing the boards and pounding the paint. Redshirt junior forward Dee Givens aided WKU’s attack with a record-breaking day that seemingly erased her recent slump.

“Honestly, scoring isn’t really our problem,” redshirt junior Alexis Brewer said after practice on Friday. “I think it’s defensively, because we’re not getting stops on the other end. We’re scoring enough points that we’re in the game, but we’re not getting stops, and I think that’s the biggest part right now. I think everyone’s contributing on the offensive end. Now, everyone just has to contribute on the defensive end too.”

The Lady Toppers did just that, out-rebounding the Thundering Herd 45-32 and winning the inside-scoring battle 38-22. Four quarters was not enough to decide a winner, but WKU eventually notched a tough 69-66 overtime win in the Cam Henderson Center.

“We were really doing a better job of keeping the ball in front of us,” Collins said. “It’s just that simple: keep the ball in front of you, don’t let them get to the rim, box out when the shot goes up, and you got a chance.”

Collins said his team is no longer playing like five players on the floor taking turns with the ball, which has resulted in both tangible and intangible changes.

“The rebounding is the statistical change that you see in the team,” Collins said. “But the bigger change is really the togetherness of the team and how they’ve come together.”

Givens entered the contest against Marshall needing only eight points to become the 40th member of WKU’s 1,000-point club.

Though eight points was not a tall order for Givens, who is averaging 17.9 points per game, stepping out from under the dark cloud that had plagued her last several outings was a much bigger task.

C-USA’s third-leading scorer answered the bell in a big way, joining the 1,000-point club on a 3-pointer early in the second quarter. Givens kept pushing and eventually tallied her second career double-double with 23 points and a career-best 13 rebounds.

“Well, first off I noticed I wasn’t getting denied,” Givens said. “I was like, ‘OK, this is going to be a good game.’ So, I just took advantage of the opportunity of them not denying me.”

After picking up a key conference victory, the Lady Toppers have only two regular-season games remaining. WKU will wrap up its four-game road swing this week against North Texas (14-12, 7-7 C-USA).

The Mean Green met the Lady Toppers on Feb. 9 in Diddle Arena with North Texas using a third-quarter rally to defeat WKU 76-67. WKU’s game in the Super Pit will give the Lady Toppers a chance to build more momentum in their last road tilt of the year.

“I think just winning helps them,” Collins said. “But really, winning and winning the rebound battle and knowing that they can guard and get stops against a team that really is a pretty strong offensive team—Marshall—I think that gives them some confidence going into next week and going down to Dallas.”

WKU will look to avenge its loss to North Texas Saturday at 5 p.m. in Denton, Texas.

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