Lady Toppers seeking consistency, not comfort, following loss

WKU’s sophomore guard Sherry Porter drives to the hoop in Diddle Arena on Jan. 26. WKU beat Louisiana Tech with a score of 81-76. CHRIS KOHLEY/HERALD

Drake Kizer

Prior to Thursday, the WKU women’s basketball team had not lost a game since Dec. 19.

The Lady Toppers were winners of six straight and also possessed an active streak of 22 consecutive wins in Conference USA home games that dated back to Feb. 25, 2016.

Wins over Southern Mississippi (11- 10, 3-5 C-USA) and Louisiana Tech (10-11, 2-6 C-USA), the ninth and 10th-place teams in league standings respectively, seemed almost inevitable.

In a word, the Lady Toppers (12-9, 6-1 C-USA) were comfortable.

“I think that was part of the reason we lost on Thursday,” head coach Greg Collins said. “I think we had, whether consciously or subconsciously, several players that just got comfortable thinking that, ‘Oh, we’ve won a bunch of games by a comfortable margin, this is going to happen again,’ and they forget quickly, you know, their memories are pretty short, how hard you work to get better to do the things that you’ve got to do.”

WKU’s performances against the Lady Eagles and Lady Techsters were almost mirror images, mostly because the Lady Toppers got comfortable with being uncomfortable.

Southern Miss ruined any sense of security WKU had very quickly on Thursday.

The Lady Toppers managed only 32 percent shooting from the floor and 11 percent from deep. WKU was out-rebounded 42-26 and committed 15 turnovers after allowing the Lady Eagles to open the game on a 22-5 run. Southern Miss snapped WKU’s program record for consecutive home conference wins in an easy 69-56 road triumph.

WKU never led against Southern Miss, falling into an insurmountable hole early.

“The first quarter was exactly what killed us tonight,” redshirt junior guard Alexis Brewer said. “If we would have been in the game then, we would have won the game at the end because we played with them the rest of the time. But then again, rebounding killed us, first quarter, second quarter, the whole game. So, that was really the problem tonight.”

Collins said he noticed his players getting discouraged by their struggles on offense.

“We still kind of base our play a little bit on our ability to score,” Collins said. “I felt like we’ve grown in the past five or six games and really kind of taken a lot of pride in what we’ve done on the defensive end … We’ve really got to get back at making sure we focus on getting stops and that means getting that defensive board and then pushing the ball.”

The Lady Toppers rekindled their defensive fire and more against LA Tech on Jan. 26, completely flipping the script on a disappointing outing two days prior.

“I think it was a big wake-up call,” sophomore guard Sherry Porter said. “Of course, we wanted to execute the game plan Thursday, but we didn’t quite do that, so we had to get back in practice Friday, get back focused, locked in, take the ‘L’ on the shoulder and keep it going.”

LA Tech boasted senior guard Kierra Anthony, the top scorer in C-USA at 22.3 points per contest. Anthony tallied 23 points, but WKU was not intimidated. The Lady Toppers locked down on defense and translated 17 turnovers into 26 points. WKU shot 35 free throws, sinking six in the final minutes to seal an 81-76 victory inside Diddle Arena.

The Lady Techsters trimmed a 21-point deficit to only three points late in the contest, spurred by sophomore guard Raizel Guinto. Guinto came off the bench and scored 19 points on six made 3-pointers for LA Tech, but the

Lady Toppers always seemed to have an answer. Instead of getting shaken, WKU was steady in its intensity.

“There was a more concerted effort on the team to make sure the energy level was high,” Collins said. “I felt like our energy was at an all-time low against Southern Miss leading into the game, and that resulted in a really poor performance. So, credit to our players, because they really focused on keeping the energy level up.”

In both contests, sophomore forward Raneem Elgedawy built upon her recent success.

The reigning C-USA Player of the Week had 20 points and nine rebounds in the loss against Southern Miss. Elgedawy, who was also named to the NCAA Weekly Starting Five last week, tallied 18 points and seven rebounds against LA Tech.

Elgedawy also had eight steals between the two games. Elgedawy ranks second in C-USA with 2.1 steals per game in league play. Elgedawy is second to her own teammate, as redshirt junior forward Dee Givens (2.6 steals per game) leads the conference.

Through seven conference games, Elgedawy is still the only player who ranks in the top five in both scoring and rebounding in C-USA. Elgedawy is averaging 19.6 points and 8.4 rebounds per contest, good for second and fifth in the league, respectively.

The Lady Toppers rank first in scoring since C-USA play began, averaging 78.3 points per game. WKU also ranks first in field goal percentage (.496) and

3-point percentage (.419) in league play. The Lady Toppers are currently slotted third in C-USA standings.

WKU will look to continue its winning ways during two road games in Texas this week.

The Lady Toppers will tip off their road trip with a weekday matchup against Texas-San Antonio (6-13, 1-6 C-USA) on Thursday. The game will take place on the Roadrunners’ Education Day, which means a raucous crowd of children will be on hand to make it difficult for WKU to pull off the program’s first-ever win in UTSA Convocation Center.

Two days later, the Lady Toppers will travel about 550 miles for a meeting with Texas-El Paso (4-16, 1-6 C-USA) on Saturday. The Miners are averaging only 51.6 points per game in conference play, which ranks last among 14 C-USA teams. UTEP leads the all-time series 3-2, including an 80-75 win over WKU at the Don Haskins Center a year ago.

“We’re always going to bring the other team’s best effort,” Collins said. “We expect nothing less. I think our players are starting to get adjusted to that and realize that we’re going to kind of be the bull’s eye on everybody else’s schedule, so we got to make sure we’re bringing that same kind of intensity.”

WKU will be looking for a 7-1 start in C-USA action Thursday at 11 a.m. in San Antonio.

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