Lady Toppers halt North Texas’ Cinderella run, advance to C-USA title game

WKU Forward Ivy Brown (23) celebrate with her team following their 77-61 win in the semifinal game of the Conference USA tournament against University of North Texas on Friday March 9, 2018 at The Star in Frisco, Tx.

Sam Porter

Just a day after the 11th-seeded University of North Texas women’s basketball team upset third-seeded Louisiana Tech, WKU made sure the Cinderella run would come to a halt. The Lady Toppers took UNT down 77-61 in the Conference USA semifinal. 

Senior forwards Tashia and Ivy Brown combined for 46 points. The victory puts WKU in its second consecutive C-USA title game.

“Hats off to North Texas, the tournament they’ve had is unbelievable,” head coach Michelle Clark-Heard said. “Jalie (Mitchell) has done a phenomenal job at her alma mater. But I’m really proud of the resilience in our team. North Texas kept coming and coming and we just kept fighting and fighting. It was a great team win.”

UNT jumped out to an early 19-13 lead early in the second quarter before the Lady Toppers went on a run to gain a lead they wouldn’t give back. Ivy Brown drained a 3-pointer to make it a one-possession game, and moments later, junior guard Sidnee Bopp drained a 3-pointer to tie the game at 19 apiece.

After UNT’s Trena Mims’ jumper gave the Mean Green the lead back, Ivy Brown answered with another 3-pointer to give the Lady Toppers the lead back. Sophomore Sherry Porter’s jumper with 3:52 left in the first half capped off a 13-2 run to give the WKU a 26-21 lead.

Just two days after being named C-USA Player of the Year, Tashia Brown found herself scoreless as halftime approached. The Lake Park, Georgia native finally put herself in the scoring book just seconds before the halftime buzzer went off to help give the Lady Toppers a 33-28 half-time lead. After not scoring for the first 19 minutes, Tashia Brown put herself in double figures over the following six minutes.

WKU opened the third quarter on an 8-2 run, and Brown scored all eight of those points to help the Lady Toppers stretch the lead to nine points early in the third quarter.

“I think it was just one of her games where she was off-rhythm early,” Clark-Heard said. “But she stayed the course. As a staff, what we had to do when we went in the locker room is figure out how to get her the ball and get her in her comfort zone. The way Tashia plays, if she makes one or two then she’s going to get on a roll and thats what happened.”

WKU would stretch their lead to as much as 13 points before UNT began to build some momentum. The Mean Green cut the lead to seven points before freshman forward Raneem Elgedawy picked up her 5th foul, leaving the Lady Toppers without one of their primary contributors and bringing the UNT fan base to its feet.

Needing a play to sway the momentum back in WKU’s favor, Tashia Brown delivered, converting an and-one jumper to push the lead back to double digits and put the Mean Green faithful back in their seats with five minutes to play. Tashia Brown finished with a game-high 25 points, 23 of which came in the second half.

“She’s definitely the best player I’ve ever played with,” Bopp said of Brown. “In my eyes, she’s an All-American and she better get that title because nobody can compare to her.”

Freshman guard Whitney Creech put the final touches on UNT, scoring six points in a span of 21 seconds to help WKU pull away for a 77-61 victory.

The win improves WKU’s overall record to 23-8. The Lady Toppers will play University of Alabama-Birmingham tomorrow at 4:30 p.m. in the C-USA Championship game. The Lady Blazers defeated the Lady Toppers 79-61 earlier this season

Reporter Sam Porter can be reached at 270-745-6291 and [email protected] Follow him on Twitter at @SammyP14.