The WKU women’s basketball team stumbled for the first time in Conference USA action on Thursday evening thanks to a scrappy Southern Mississippi team that wanted nothing more than to hand the Lady Toppers their first loss in league action.
WKU (11-9, 5-1 C-USA) shot 11 percent from deep, committed 15 turnovers and were out-rebounded 42-26 against Southern Miss (10-10, 2-5 C-USA). The Lady Eagles snapped a six-game win streak for WKU and also broke the Lady Toppers’ 22-game C-USA home win streak with a convincing 69-56 road win inside Diddle Arena.
“Tonight, we weren’t real determined in what we were trying to do,” head coach Greg Collins said. “I felt like we were still looking for opportunities to score, which is a positive. But we realty weren’t locked in on the defensive end, we weren’t locked in on the boards, we were still giving a lot of second chance opportunities for them… This is going to be a key point for this team as we move forward and play the best teams in this conference.”
Sophomore forward Raneem Elgedawy led the way for the Lady Toppers, coming close to her fourth double-double of the season with 20 points and nine rebounds.
On the other side, junior forward Respect Leaphart exploded for Southern Miss, posting 24 points and 11 rebounds off the bench for the Lady Eagles in 29 minutes of action.
Neither team scored until Southern Miss nailed a jumper with 8:35 remaining in the first period. After a single made free throw from Elgedawy, WKU did not register a single point for over two minutes. During that stretch, the Lady Eagles enjoyed a 4-0 run that extended their lead to 6-1 over the Lady Toppers.
A pair of fastbreak layups by redshirt junior forward Dee Givens midway through the frame twice cut WKU’s deficit to three points. But the Lady Toppers could not capitalize, as Southern Miss heated up from the floor and ended the first quarter on a 7-0 run.
Following the scoring stretch, the Lady Eagles led WKU after 10 minutes, 15-5.
Unfortunately for the Lady Toppers, Southern Miss did not stop there.
The Lady Eagles extended their scoring run into the second quarter, beginning the frame on a 7-0 run that gave Southern Miss a 22-5 lead. The Lady Toppers did not score in the second period until Givens sank a pair of free throws with 6:34 remaining.
WKU built on Givens’ makes, mounting a 7-0 run that trimmed their deficit to 10 midway through the second period. Southern Miss continued answering any offense the Lady Toppers could muster, maintaining a double-digit advantage in the process.
Although WKU made each of their last three field goals in the second frame, the Lady Eagles were still able to take an 11-point lead into the locker room for halftime, 34-23.
Southern Miss extended its lead to 13 by opening the third quarter with a layup. After redshirt sophomore forward Arame Niang netted consecutive layups for WKU, the Lady Toppers trailed by single digits for the first time since the first quarter, 38-29.
The Lady Eagles answered by rattling off a 5-0 run and extending their lead to 14 points, 43-29. WKU struggled to score from the floor, instead chipping away at their deficit by making nine shots from the free-throw line down the stretch.
Although the Lady Toppers only registered one made field goal after the 5:55 mark of the second period, WKU entered the final 10 minutes trailing by 11, 51-40.
Elgedawy single-handedly powered a 5-0 WKU run to begin the fourth quarter. The scoring stretch brought the Lady Toppers back to within six points, 51-45. Southern Miss responded with a 5-0 run of its own, clawing back in front by double digits.
WKU continued to fight, drawing to within seven points with 3:54 remaining in the contest. But Southern Miss outscored the Lady Toppers 18-16 in the fourth quarter, sealing a 13-point upset victory on the road in Bowling Green.
“I think that we just need to learn that any given night anybody can beat you,” junior guard Whitney Creech said. “We’re not invincible. You know, we started off undefeated in conference and we lost tonight. That kind of shows us that, ‘Hey, you’ve got to come out and be ready to play every night.’ You just can’t think you’re going to show up and win, you have to be prepared every game and just come out and play hard.”
Following the loss, the Lady Toppers will return to the floor in two days for a meeting with Louisiana Tech (10-10, 2-5 C-USA). The Lady Techsters are led by senior guard Kierra Anthony, who is the top scorer in C-USA through seven games played. WKU will look to win its seventh straight over LA Tech 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_.