Lady Toppers enter season seeking new leadership, high effort

Sophomore guard Terri Smith drives toward the basket as Old Dominion guard Victoria Morris defends her. WKU Lady Toppers played Old Dominion on Feb. 8 at E.A. Diddle Arena. The Toppers won 62-48.

Drake Kizer

The question of the offseason for WKU women’s basketball has been how the Lady Toppers will maintain their success. First-year head coach Greg Collins’ answer at media day Friday was simple: hard work from the entire roster.

Two of the all-time great players in WKU women’s basketball history, Tashia Brown and Ivy Brown, graduated last spring. Now, Collins will have to find a way to replace their production, but he said his current squad has plenty of potential to do just that.

“I don’t know that we have one player just yet [that’s] ready to take on some of those roles solely, but I think that’s the strength of our team is that … there’s a number of players that can step up and fill those roles,” Collins said.

The Lady Toppers return a considerable amount of experience this season, including the reigning Conference USA Freshman of the Year and Sixth Player of the Year in Raneem Elgedawy and Dee Givens, respectively. But Collins made it clear that past accolades will not translate to an automatic spot on the floor.

“The five that are going to play are the five that play the hardest,” Collins said. “I don’t care if you were Sixth Player of the Year or Freshman of the Year, it doesn’t matter. If you’re not playing hard, we’re going to play somebody else. Right now, they’re competing with each other for those opportunities to play.”

Redshirt junior guard Alexis Brewer said Collins’ philosophy about playing time is nothing new.

“I think anywhere you go, whoever plays hard is going to be on the floor,” Brewer said. “He started that from the time he got the head coaching job. If we weren’t playing hard, he took you off the court and you stood on the sideline until you wanted to play hard.”

Collins said he does not see the starting five as the most important aspect of his team. He is much more focused on finding out which players will be on the floor when games are being decided. Collins said Brewer and junior guard Whitney Creech have both started conveying the leadership necessary to take control.

“You can drill, you can practice, you can do workouts, but you still can’t teach somebody to want the ball in their hands,” Collins said. “Those two young ladies like that situation.”

The Lady Toppers, who have claimed back-to-back C-USA Tournament Championships, received no first-place votes in C-USA’s preseason coaches poll and also did not have a player selected to the preseason all-conference team. Collins said despite what some may think, the preseason analysis of his program was actually far from insulting.

“We were picked fourth, and in a lot of ways, that’s a compliment,” Collins said. “We graduated a lot of points, a lot of rebounds and a lot of experience. For the conference to still pick us fourth, I think that’s a big vote of confidence for our girls … Now we have to go out there and prove that we’ve earned that spot, and if we want anything more than that then we have to earn that as well.”

Collins said his players are working on becoming more comfortable in their roles. He said the team’s defense needs to improve, but he has been impressed with how well they’re sharing the ball on offense.

Redshirt junior forward Dee Givens said she and her teammates have already developed a deep sense of camaraderie.

“We have a lot of personality on this team,” Givens said. “We’re really goofy. Everybody gets along and … you can lean on anybody. Like if you’re having a bad day, you can text anybody and see how you can get better on or off the court.”

Collins spoke highly about the shooting and ball-handling ability of several Lady Toppers, namely guards Sherry Porter and Sidnee Bopp. He also had high praise for freshman Meral Abdelgawad, who Collins said was poised for a breakout season.

The Lady Toppers’ 2018-19 schedule features five matchups against opponents from Power 5 conferences. Each of the team’s first four regular season opponents made the NCAA Tournament a year ago, but Collins said he is looking forward to seeing how his team matches up against some of the top competition in the country.

“This schedule’s really tough and challenging,” Collins said. “It’ll help give us what we need, which is experience. We’ve got good players, a good team and great young ladies, we just need some experience. This is going to give it to us quickly.”

WKU women’s basketball begins its slate at 6 p.m. this Thursday in Diddle Arena with an exhibition against West Virginia State. The regular season kicks off five days later on Nov. 6 with a home game against in-state rival Louisville, a 2018 Final Four team.

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