Owls swoop in to Diddle, defeat Lady Toppers

Junior guard Whitney Creech looks for a shot during the Lady Toppers’ victory over Old Dominion on Jan. 5 in Diddle Arena.

Drake Kizer

The WKU women’s basketball team never led against Rice on Thursday evening, dropping only their second decision of the year in Conference USA play. The Lady Toppers fell victim to the league’s only squad with an unblemished conference record.

WKU (14-10, 8-2 C-USA) has been C-USA’s best scoring offensive since league play began, but Rice (19-3, 10-0 C-USA), the best scoring defense in conference action, was able to hold the Lady Toppers to 31 percent shooting from the floor and 29 percent from deep. Rice led for almost 40 minutes, cruising to a 68-46 road win inside Diddle Arena.

“As far as the other schools we’ve played, they’re the best in the conference we’ve played so far,” head coach Greg Collins said. “What really changes it is having that size inside, that changes everything and then they’ve got all of the players on the perimeter, Ogwumike, they’re all good ball players and they can make the three and so they’ve got that inside-outside attack and we weren’t able to capitalize on our turnovers we created and we weren’t able to make enough perimeter shots to pull them out from the inside.”

The Lady Toppers were led by junior guard Whitney Creech, who posted 12 points, 2 rebounds and 2 assists in 34 minutes of action for WKU. Sophomore forward Raneem Elgedawy added nine points and six rebounds in 22 minutes.

Rice sank a layup 29 seconds into the contest, sparking a game-opening 6-0 run for the Owls. Elgedawy split a pair of shots at the foul line, which resulted in WKU’s only points of the first period until a made layup by senior guard Sidnee Bopp at the 2:51 mark.

The Lady Toppers struggled mightily on offense, while Rice enjoyed a 9-0 run during the opening frame. After falling behind 19-5, things went from bad to worse for WKU.

Redshirt junior forward Dee Givens was assessed a technical foul with 0:03 left to play, which resulted in two more shots at the foul line for the Owls.

Rice ended the opening quarter with a 16-point lead, 21-5.

“You know, we didn’t get off to a good start and when you dig yourself in a hole, the whole game you’re just trying to fight and fight and get out of that hole,” Creech said. “So, you know, we didn’t put us in a great position for the rest of the game.”

Freshman guard Meral Abdelgawad opened the second quarter with a 3-pointer, while redshirt junior forward Arame Niang drilled one of her own shortly after. Their shots from deep allowed WKU to stay within striking distance, even while Rice continued scoring.

Elgedawy was critical down the stretch for WKU, tallying seven points and three rebounds in the second period. The Lady Toppers cut their deficit to 12 points with 4:02 remaining after a 5-0 run, 28-16. Rice pushed their advantage back to 17 with under one minute to play, but Elgedawy and Niang cut into that lead with a pair of layups late.

WKU went into the locker room for halftime trailing Rice by a 13-point margin, 35-22.

The Lady Toppers’ deficit was trimmed to 12 eight seconds into the third quarter following a make from Elgedawy at the foul line. But Rice kept its opponent at arm’s length, never letting WKU get close to a single-digit deficit for the rest of the period.

Creech posted seven points in the third quarter, helping the Lady Toppers not get completely buried by the Owls’ offensive onslaught. Rice kept its lead around 15 points for most of the third period, but forced the Lady Toppers into a deeper hole by making a 3-pointer and a layup with under 1:30 to play.

Rice led by a comfortable margin after 30 minutes of action, 54-35.

WKU refused to go away without a fight, beginning the fourth quarter on a 7-0 run that cut Rice’s lead to 12, 54-42. Sophomore guard Terri Smith drained a 3-pointer with 5:53 remaining, pulling the Lady Toppers to within 11 points of the Owls.

From there, Rice turned up the heat on both ends of the floor. The Lady Toppers did not make a field goal for the last 5:53, registering only one point for the rest of the game. The Owls concluded the contest on a 12-1 run and cruised to a 22-point win over WKU.

Following the loss, the Lady Toppers will be back on the court in just two days for a meeting with North Texas (11-11, 4-6 C-USA). The Mean Green’s Anisha George owns the best field goal percentage among qualified players in league play (61.6 percent). The Lady Toppers will look to contain George Saturday at 2 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_.