WKU schedule gets tougher with long-distance travel

Lady Topper basketball coach Greg Collins watches his team take on Louisville on Nov. 6. WKU lost 102-80. 

Drake Kizer

When the WKU women’s basketball team team finishes its stretch of five games in eight days, the Lady Toppers will have traveled about 4,950 miles.

In the Lady Toppers’ first three contests of the regular season, the team faced a Power 5 opponent on the road (Oklahoma) and welcomed two top 15 opponents to Diddle Arena (No. 5 Louisville, No. 13 Iowa).

After a start against national powerhouses, WKU now has a tumultuous stretch of games that will feature a matchup against No. 9 Oregon State as well as a potential matchup against No. 13 South Carolina. The stretch started with a loss at Central Michigan Saturday and will continue with a matchup at home against Southern Illinois Tuesday. The Lady Toppers will then take on Oregon State in the Vancouver Showcase on Thursday.

Head coach Greg Collins, who is still seeking his first regular season victory, said prior to his team’s matchup with Iowa that the Lady Toppers have a win-now mentality.

“What we discount, if anything, is when. . . someone might suggest that, ‘Well, this schedule’s a really tough one.’ I think that’s just a nice way of saying maybe we’re not ready to compete at that level,” Collins said. “I remind our players that this is what we’re going to do and it’s not going to change, so get used to it. We’re going to adjust to it, we’re going to learn from it and we’ll continue to do this. . . We’re on the way.”

WKU hosted the Hawkeyes (3-0) on Nov. 13. Iowa star Megan Gustafson exploded for 29 points and 12 rebounds. Gustafson shot a perfect 13-13 from the floor, which set a Big Ten conference record and a new school record. The Lady Toppers fell behind early and could never recover, falling to the Hawkeyes 104-67.

The Lady Toppers started their stretch of five games in eight days by traveling 464 miles to face CMU (2-1) on Saturday. The Chippewas overwhelmed WKU early and often, scoring 38 points in the first period. Despite career-bests in points from both redshirt junior forward Dee Givens (23) and sophomore forward Raneem Elgedawy (20), WKU still fell to CMU 108-90.

WKU’s next four contests will be played over the span of just five days.

Junior guard Whitney Creech discussed the team’s plan for playing numerous games on short rest following WKU’s loss to Iowa.

“I think we just have to lock in mentally,” Creech said. “It’s going to be challenging, so I think it’s kind of mind over matter. We have to put our minds to it, you know, just stay strong mentally, don’t let the fatigue get to us and just play hard and do what we do and play team basketball.”

WKU logged another 464 miles returning to Bowling Green for its matchup against Southern Illinois (2-1). The Lady Toppers, who lead the all-time series 8-6, defeated SIU 75-49 last year. This season, the Salukis have already defeated a Conference-USA opponent: SIU hosted Marshall on Nov. 17 and overcame the Thundering Herd 58-49.

The Lady Toppers will meet the Salukis in Diddle Arena on Tuesday at 11 a.m.

On Wednesday, WKU will fly 2,014 miles to Vancouver, Canada. The Lady Toppers are playing in the inaugural Vancouver Showcase, which features seven other programs. The tournament will mark WKU’s first international trip since the 2013-14 season.

OSU is the third top 15 opponent WKU has met already this season. The Beavers (3-0) will face the Lady Toppers in the first round of the tournament on Thanksgiving night at 10:30 p.m.

The Lady Toppers will be looking for a different result than the last time they faced OSU in the opening round of a tournament, as the Beavers defeated WKU 82-58 in the First Round of the NCAA Tournament a season ago.

WKU’s second round game will be played on Black Friday. If WKU prevails over OSU, then the Lady Toppers will face the winner of USC and East Tennessee State. If the Beavers take a 2-1 lead in the all-time series over the Lady Toppers, then WKU will face the loser of USC and ETSU.

WKU’s final game in the Vancouver Showcase will take place on Saturday. The Lady Toppers’ third opponent will be determined based on results from around the bracket. Potential opponents include Gonzaga, Rutgers and Drake. The Lady Toppers might also meet No. 1 Notre Dame, a team WKU is already scheduled to face on Dec. 19.

At the conclusion of the Vancouver Showcase, WKU will travel 2,014 miles back to Bowling Green, bringing its eight-day mileage total to 4,956. Following this stretch, the Lady Toppers will not play again until Nov. 28, when WKU will meet Morgan State in Diddle Arena.

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