Lady Toppers defeat SIU for first win of season

Senior forward Jae’Lisa Allen dives for a loose ball after a missed offensive rebound against Southern Illinois in Diddle Arena on Nov. 20. The Lady Toppers defeated the Salukis 83-76.

Drake Kizer

A high-percentage shooting performance helped the WKU women’s basketball team withstand a late push from Southern Illinois and claim its first win of the regular season 83-76 on Tuesday afternoon.

The Lady Toppers (1-4) never trailed, leading the Salukis (2-2) for the entirety of the contest other than 31 scoreless seconds to begin the game. WKU shot 50 percent from the field and shot 71.4 percent from deep, hitting 10-of-14 3-point attempts.

Despite shooting only 36 percent from the field, SIU never seemed to go away completely. After falling behind by 19 at halftime, SIU outscored the Lady Toppers 43-31 in the second half. WKU’s lead was trimmed to as low as three points late in the fourth quarter, but the Lady Toppers held on and helped head coach Greg Collins claim his first regular season victory at the helm.

“We’re really not concerned about the offense,” Collins said postgame. “It was good to see us get out and run and we played well offensively in the first half. I just think in the second half, we missed a lot of easy shots and then we panicked a little bit and we started taking some bad shots…They’ll get better at that, they’re going to improve.”

The Lady Toppers were once again led by redshirt junior forward Dee Givens, who matched the career-high 23 points she set against Central Michigan last Saturday by nailing six 3-pointers. Sophomore forward Raneem Elgedawy followed up a career-high 20 points last Saturday by posting 18 points and a team-high nine rebounds this afternoon.

“When I was shooting, I really wasn’t thinking about my shot,” Givens said. “Like, usually when you miss a shot you’re probably thinking about it too much…so today I just [shot].”

Givens started her scoring performance early, hitting a pair of 3-pointers in the first. WKU went on an extended scoring drought midway through the opening period, but later enjoyed a 9-0 run. SIU called a timeout with 2:49 left in the first quarter, a decision which paid dividends for the Salukis. After that brief break, the Salukis scored 12 points and trimmed the Lady Toppers lead to only seven to conclude the first period.

Neither team scored in the second quarter until Givens hit two free throws at the 8:28 mark. A scoring explosion quickly followed, as Givens netted a trio of 3-pointers over 1:41 of clock time. Senior guard Sidnee Bopp added two 3-pointers of her own, which contributed to WKU’s 83.3 shooting percentage from deep in the second quarter.

The Lady Toppers enjoyed a 14-2 run at one point in the second quarter, which helped WKU expand its lead to 52-33 at halftime.

After not scoring in the first half, the third quarter was all about redshirt junior guard Alexis Brewer. Brewer scored eight of her 10 points in the third period alone.

SIU opened the third quarter on a 7-0 run, holding WKU scoreless until redshirt sophomore Arame Niang hit a lay up at the 7:03 mark. After trimming the lead to 12, Brewer hit a 3-pointer to push WKU ahead by 15. WKU went multiple minutes without a bucket midway through the period, while SIU went on a 6-0 run. Givens’ sixth and final 3-pointer of the afternoon helped WKU finish the third quarter still ahead 68-57.

In the final period, SIU continued to trim WKU’s lead bit by bit. The Salukis trailed by nine with 4:46 remaining, but clawed back to within five at the 2:19 mark. The Lady Toppers called a timeout with 1:34 remaining after their lead was narrowed to only three points by a 6-0 SIU run. 

The Salukis turned the ball over with a chance to tie the game. Givens took advantage, nailing a layup for the Lady Toppers with only 27 seconds left to play. Elgedawy, who went down hard early in the frame but later returned, sank two free throws to clinch the victory for WKU.

The Lady Toppers were out-rebounded 47-32 and allowed SIU to grab 26 offensive rebounds, which translated to 19 points for the Salukis. Despite disparities in those areas, WKU reserves outscored the SIU bench 23-15.

WKU employed a different starting five for this contest, as junior guard Whitney Creech came off the bench for the first time this season. Collins mixed the lineups early and often, as nine different Lady Toppers scored at least two points in the game.

“I’m trying to find the best lineup that gives us the best defensive start,” Collins said. “Secondly, there’s not a better motivator than that bench. And so, a lot of times when you see a young lady sit on that bench then they come back and they get refocused because they want to play.”

Following the victory, WKU and seven other teams will head to Vancouver, Canada, for the inaugural Vancouver Showcase. The Lady Toppers will face No. 9 Oregon State (3-0), the team’s third top 15 opponent already this season, in the first round of the tournament Thursday night at 10:30 p.m.

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