Hilltopper Hysteria shows identity of new-look Lady Toppers

WKU guard Wittney Creech (5) goes for a lay up during the scrimmage at Hilltopper Hysteria at Diddle Arena on Thursday. The women’s black squad won over the red squad 30-16.

Drake Kizer

Hilltopper Hysteria served as the dawn of a new era for WKU women’s basketball, and though the Lady Toppers did not show too much of their hand, the program still revealed some of its talent for the 2018-19 season.

Former head coach Michelle Clark-Heard, who guided WKU to four NCAA Tournament appearances and a 154-48 mark in six seasons, accepted the head coaching job at Cincinnati in March. Two of the program’s all-time great players, Tashia Brown and Ivy Brown, also graduated last spring, which created a lot of questions surrounding the future of the Lady Toppers during the offseason.

“We just want to compete,” redshirt junior Alexis Brewer said. “Obviously we want to win all of our games, so we’re just gonna go out there and have fun and play hard and just try to get a W.”

First-year head coach Greg Collins, who was promoted after serving four years as associate head coach and six years total as an assistant under Clark-Heard, provided answers to some of the questions during his team’s 12-minute Red vs. Black scrimmage.

The Black team prevailed over the Red team 30-16, but the individual performances from players on both sides of the intrasquad contest told a much deeper story.

Redshirt junior Dee Givens, the reigning Conference USA Sixth Player of the Year, recorded two rebounds and led the Red team in scoring with six points. Givens played in 32-of-33 games last season, starting five. It is not totally clear whether Collins will ask Givens to start or come off the bench, but Givens figures to be a key contributor yet again after averaging career-bests in points, rebounds and assists per game a season ago.

Junior Whitney Creech orchestrated the Red squad offense, but she did not just facilitate. During one Red possession, Creech brought the ball up the floor and drove into the paint herself for a layup. Last season, Creech was WKU’s starting point guard for 32-of-33 games, which she said has made Collins view her as a leader.

“I think he’s looking to me a lot to lead the team,” Creech said after the event. “I got quite a bit of experience last year at the point guard position, so [I’m] just trying to carry that experience into this year and just build off that and improve on that.”

Reigning C-USA Freshman of the Year Raneem Elgedawy tallied nine points and six rebounds for the Black squad. The Lady Toppers will not only lean on Elgedawy’s size inside, but also her experience, as she started all 33 games as a freshman last season.

The Black team also showcased an Egyptian connection that could serve as a focal point for WKU women’s basketball for years to come. Meral Abdelgawad, a freshman guard from Cairo, Egypt, hit Elgedawy in stride during a fast-break. Abdelgawad’s pass set up Elgedawy, a sophomore from Alexandria, Egypt, for an easy bucket underneath.

Another Black team member, Brewer, snagged seven rebounds and made all three of her shots from beyond the arc. Brewer’s nine-point performance tied her with Elgedawy for the team lead and displayed the stroke that helped her achieve a 42.2 3-point percentage during the 2016-17 season, her last at West Virginia before transferring to WKU in 2017-18.

Hilltopper Hysteria was the first chance for many fresh faces on the Lady Toppers’ roster to get acclimated to their new surroundings on the Hill. But the team as a whole will have to adapt very quickly, as its first four regular season games will come against 2018 NCAA Tournament teams.

WKU women’s basketball will take the court on Nov. 1 in Diddle Arena for an exhibition against West Virginia State. After that contest, the Lady Toppers will tip off the regular season with a marquee home game on Nov. 6 against in-state rival Louisville.

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