Elgedawy, Lady Toppers surge to 5-0 start in C-USA play

Raneem Elgedawy drives to the net while being fouled by Southern Illinois University’s defense in Diddle Arena on Nov. 20.

Drake Kizer

The WKU women’s basketball team headed into its first road trip of Conference USA play on quite a tear, as the program had just rattled off four straight wins at home.

An excursion to Florida did not slow down the Lady Toppers (11-8, 5-0 C-USA) one bit, as the program continued blasting opponents during its games in the Sunshine State.

Now winners of six straight, WKU is undefeated so far in C-USA play and seems poised to make another deep run in the C-USA Tournament at the conclusion of the season.

“This team can score, that’s not the problem,” head coach Greg Collins said. “The problem’s making sure that we lock down on the defensive end and guard players and make them earn baskets … I think an area that we’ve really got to get better at, and I talked to the players about this, is making sure we’re better at guarding the post. And that doesn’t fall solely on Raneem or Arame or Jae’Lisa’s shoulders, it’s team defense.”

Though Collins referenced not relying solely on any player, including sophomore forward Raneem Elgedawy, the reigning C-USA Freshman of the Year took it upon herself to take an assertive role in the Lady Toppers’ last two outings.

Though she was far away from her native Alexandria, Egypt, Elgedawy made herself at home on the road and returned to form for the Lady Toppers in wins over Florida International (3-16, 0-6 C-USA) and Florida Atlantic (3-16, 0-6 C-USA).

During the Lady Toppers’ two-game Florida swing, Elgedawy averaged a double-double, as the sophomore tallied 26.5 points and 12.5 rebounds per contest.

Elgedawy also became the first WKU post player with two consecutive 25-point games since Chastity Gooch accomplished the feat in January 2014.

Elgedawy was not herself in WKU’s last game before departing for Florida. She posted nine points and four rebounds against Marshall (10-8, 4-1 C-USA) on Jan. 12, but she also committed a team-high four turnovers in only 20 minutes of action. Redshirt junior forward Dee Givens spoke about Elgedawy at practice on Jan. 15.

“Raneem, she’s quiet,” Givens said. “So, she really doesn’t say much. But when she’s out there, she knows what she’s doing. And sometimes, some days, she might feel down, or she might be lacking in confidence, so I just try to help her build her confidence back up and, you know, just try to do what I can.”

Givens’ words of encouragement must have gotten through to her teammate, as Elgedawy started to get back on track against FIU in Miami on Thursday.

The Lady Toppers sank 10 3-pointers for a third consecutive game thanks to seven made 3-pointers from Givens alone. Givens finished with a career-high 31 points against the Panthers, while Elgedawy scored a career-high 28 points and grabbed a team-high nine rebounds in an easy 94-82 road victory for WKU.

Elgedawy and Givens combined to score 59 of WKU’s 94 points against FIU, the most points any two Lady Toppers have combined for in a single game since Nov. 22, 2005. On that date, Crystal Kelly dropped 38 points against Charlotte. Current WKU assistant coach Tiffany Porter-Talbert added 21, bringing the duo’s collective point total to 59.

During the second quarter against FIU, Elgedawy capped a performance for the record books by pulling up from distance and netting the first 3-pointer of her young career.

Elgedawy’s good fortune continued against FAU in Boca Raton, Florida, on Saturday.

Although the Lady Toppers lost their streak of 10 made 3-pointers against the Owls, WKU made up for that deficiency by holding FAU to 30 percent shooting from the floor and 16 percent from deep. Elgedawy notched a team-high 25 points, 16 rebounds, five steals and two blocked shots in an 81-50 blowout win for the Lady Toppers.

“On the offensive end, she’s really working hard at making sure she’s getting closer to the basket on post-ups,” Collins said. “That’s a lot harder to double-team, that’s a lot harder to stop, and so she’s getting deeper in the lane, close to the rim, and that gives her a higher-percentage chance of making those shots and finishing around the basket.”

Elgedawy achieved her third double-double of the season after only the first two quarters, lighting up FAU for 15 points and 11 rebounds in 20 minutes of game time.

“The other thing she’s really focused on, even more importantly than [offense], is rebounding,” Collins said. “She was really upset that she didn’t get that one extra rebound to get the double-double at FIU. And so, she was upset so much that she had a double-double at halftime today … I was really proud of her effort on the boards.”

Through five conference games, Elgedawy is the only player who ranks in the top five in both scoring and rebounding in C-USA. Elgedawy is averaging 19.8 points and 8.6 rebounds per contest, good for third and fifth in the league, respectively.

WKU will look to extend its winning streak during a two-game home stretch this week.

The Lady Toppers will tip off their home stand with a contest against Southern Mississippi (9-10, 1-5 C-USA) on Thursday. WKU leads the all-time series 5-3, including victories over the Lady Eagles in the championship round of the C-USA Tournament in 2015 and 2017. WKU and Southern Miss split two games a year ago with each team winning at home.

Two days later, WKU will welcome Louisiana Tech (10-9, 2-4 C-USA) to Bowling Green on Saturday. Although the Lady Toppers have won six straight over the Lady Techsters, LA Tech still leads the all-time series 26-19. Senior guard Kierra Anthony is the leading scorer in C-USA through six games, averaging 20.2 points per contest for LA Tech.

Dating back to Feb. 25, 2016, the Lady Toppers have won 22 consecutive C-USA games in Diddle Arena. WKU will have a chance to extend its program record for consecutive home conference victories to 24 straight after another slate of league foes.

“We’ll get up and down the floor with them and see what happens,” Collins said. “I really want to make sure we get our kids back and get healthy, get rested, get back in the gym, clean up the little bit of things we’ve got to do and try to keep rolling.”

WKU will seek a 6-0 start in C-USA play Thursday at 6 p.m. in Diddle Arena.

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