Lady Toppers face another tough test against Iowa

Lady topper sophomore Sherry Porter (25) attempts to shoot for two as she defended by Louisville forward Junior Kylee Shook (21) during the Lady Toppers’ 102-80 loss in the first USA conference game against Louisville University on Tuesday Nov, 6, at the E.A. Diddle Arena.

Drake Kizer

After coming up short in its first two regular-season contests, WKU women’s basketball will return to Diddle Arena on Tuesday night looking for a victory against Iowa.

The Lady Toppers, who trail the all-time series 4-3, lost their last meeting with the Hawkeyes 104-97 last year. In that contest, WKU was able to endure a Big Ten road environment, finishing four quarters knotted with Iowa 93-93. In overtime, the Lady Toppers were outscored 11-4 and ultimately lost a hard-fought game.

Iowa returns four of its five starters from last year’s squad, a team that finished 24-8 and received an at-large bid to the NCAA Tournament. The Hawkeyes, ranked No. 13 in the preseason AP Poll, claimed their season opener over Oral Roberts 90-77 at Carver-Hawkeye Arena on Nov. 9. Senior forward Megan Gustafson led the way for Iowa with team-highs in points, rebounds and assists.

Prior to WKU’s first regular-season contest against No. 5 Louisville, head coach Greg Collins said he did not expect redshirt junior forward Dee Givens to do great every night, but he did expect her to give great effort.

“With Dee, the biggest challenge in the past wasn’t having great games, it was consistently putting together great game after great game,” Collins said. “[Bringing a more consistent effort] is something that she’s worked on … in practice, and I hope that we’ll see that on the floor.”

The Lady Toppers got that and more from Givens: she scored 18 at home against the Cardinals before establishing a new career-high in points with 21 on the road against the Sooners. After scoring only five points in the first three frames against OU, Givens hit four 3-pointers in the fourth period to keep WKU within striking distance until the end.

Despite the efforts of Givens and her teammates, WKU fell to U of L 102-80 on Nov. 6 and OU 90-83 on Friday.

The difference in both of the Lady Toppers’ losses this season was transcendent performances from opposing players. Against the Cardinals, senior guard Asia Durr, an AP preseason All-American, poured in 33 points in only 21 minutes. The story was the same in Norman, Oklahoma, as sophomore guard Shaina Pellington scored a career-high 33 points for the Sooners.

WKU’s fortunes against Iowa will hinge on preventing senior forward Megan Gustafson, a 2017 Second-Team All-American, from having a similar outing. Gustafson led the country with 25.7 points per game a year ago, scoring a game-high 35 points in WKU’s loss to Iowa last season.

On the offensive side, the Lady Toppers will look for a much more consistent performance. WKU has suffered extended scoring droughts in each of its first two contests, which has caused its opponents’ scoring runs to prove especially deadly.

Half-court sets have also been an issue, which Collins spoke about after the U of L game.

“I made a decision early on that we were going to become a good running team,” Collins said. “Then we would develop our half-court offense next. And we’ve been working on it, but that’s still not our strength yet.”

One positive so far this season has been the ability of different Lady Toppers to step up when needed. Redshirt junior guard Alexis Brewer scored 22 points against the Cardinals but managed only seven against OU. Conversely, freshman guard Meral Abdelgawad followed a four-point outing against U of L with a 17-point outburst against the Sooners.

“I feel like it makes it really hard for people to be able to guard us,” senior guard Sidnee Bopp said before the U of L game. “You never know who’s going to go off … it doesn’t matter what night it is, it’s just whoever we need to step up does it.”

Collins said the Lady Toppers are focused on themselves and becoming more cohesive as a unit so that when February and March roll around, they will be ready. 

“I think that we’re trying to get some experience here,” Collins said after the U of L game. “We’ve got a good team and we have good chemistry. I think once we get some experience, we have a shot to be pretty competitive”

Collins is still seeking his first career regular-season win. He will look to lead the Lady Toppers to victory over the Hawkeyes at 6 p.m. on Tuesday in Diddle Arena. The game will be available on ESPN3 and WKU PBS.

 

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