Lady Toppers look to bounce back against UTSA

WKU senior forward Tashia Brown (10) drives in for a layup during WKU’s game vs Notre Dame on Nov 14, 2017 in E.A. Diddle Arena. WKU lost 65-78.

Tyler Mansfield

After having its four-game winning streak snapped in its first conference loss of the season last Saturday at Alabama-Birmingham, WKU returns to action Thursday morning against Texas-San Antonio at 11 a.m. in Diddle Arena.

Against UAB, WKU had three different players score in double figures – led by Ivy Brown’s game-high 25 points – but the Lady Toppers (12-5 overall, 3-1 Conference USA) were outscored 22-7 in the fourth quarter to fall 79-61 to the Blazers, who improved to 8-0 in Bartow Arena in 2017-18.

“That was probably the first time we’ve only scored seven points in a quarter, but we try not to focus on the offensive part, just the defense,” WKU coach Michelle Clark-Heard said Wednesday. “We left shooters open, we didn’t communicate and do the different things that we needed to. It was a learning experience for us.”

On her weekly radio show – and as she mentioned Wednesday – coach Heard said that Saturday’s loss in Birmingham can really benefit the Lady Toppers down the road.

“I feel like the UAB game is something that we can continue to grow and learn from,” Heard said Monday night. “It’s early in the conference season and we can grow from that.”

WKU, currently ranked 46th in the NCAA RPI, welcomes in a UTSA team that currently sits at No. 299. The Roadrunners are 3-13 overall and 1-3 in C-USA play, but enter Thursday’s matchup in Bowling Green following a 64-56 win over Old Dominion.

UTSA is led by the trio of Marie Benson (13.7 points per game), Crystal Chidomere (12.9) and Carlie Heineman (11.1), who combine to average 37.7 of the Roadrunners’ 58.5 ppg. UTSA has yet to win away from San Antonio this season, as it is currently 0-8 in road games.

“We’ve just got to come out and play hard every single day,” Ivy Brown said. “I don’t think we really played as hard as we could against UAB. We use it as motivation to go harder. (UTSA is) a very athletic team and they’re really good, so we’ll just have to play defense.”

WKU continues to be led by the senior duo of Ivy and Tashia Brown. While Tashia is averaging 22.5 ppg to lead all of C-USA, Ivy is scoring 16.5 per night to go along with 9.9 rebounds per game.

Alongside the Browns, a trio of underclassmen have also been performing at a high level for the Lady Toppers. Sophomore guard Whitney Creech is averaging 8.6 PPG, while freshman forward Raneem Elgedawy is right behind Creech with 8.5 PPG and 7.8 RPG. Dee Givens is currently scoring 8.2 per outing.

“I think we have had different people (step up) at different times,” Heard said. “I think the most important thing right now is that Dee is giving us a lot of consistency over the past three or four games. We need other people to continue to keep doing that.” 

Saturday’s contest will be WKU’s annual “Spread the Red Education Day” game. The event is designed for area students from Warren County Public Schools and Bowling Green City Schools to come watch the Lady Toppers play. But the recent snow has caused the two school districts to close so far this week, so many students won’t be attending this year’s game.

“It’ll be a lot different. The kids always scream, even if they were screaming for the other team,” said Ivy Brown. “We’ll just have to bring our own energy and really focus on doing what we do. Just bringing our own energy will be important tomorrow.”

The Lady Toppers have posted a perfect 6-0 record in Education Day tilts since beginning the tradition during the 2010-11 season and have defeated a C-USA opponent in each of the six outings. In last season’s Education Day matchup, WKU recorded a 60-48 win over UAB on Jan. 12.

Following Thursday’s game, WKU will hit the road to Huntington, West Virginia to take on Marshall on Sunday afternoon at Noon. Marshall has yet to win a conference game and is 5-5 this year in the Cam Henderson Center.

Reporter Tyler Mansfield can be reached at 270-935-0007 and [email protected] Follow him on Twitter @_TylerMansfield.