Lady Toppers edge North Texas for third Sun Belt win

Junior forward Teranie Thomas had 10 points and eight rebounds in WKU’s 69-64 win over North Texas Saturday. Thomas started in place of junior guard Vanessa Obafemi, who didn’t play against the Mean Green.

Cole Claybourn

Head Coach Mary Taylor Cowles got exactly what she wanted Saturday.

After watching her team let a 10-point lead slip away en route to a 51-50 loss to Denver Wednesday, Cowles said she wanted to see her team respond positively and put that loss in the past.

Like Wednesday’s game, the Lady Toppers (6-9, 3-1 Sun Belt Conference) were ahead by seven with less than three minutes to play. But this time, the Lady Toppers made the plays they needed to and went on to win, 69-64, over North Texas in Diddle Arena.

“We didn’t panic,” Cowles said. “I’m very proud of them for coming forward with the mentality and focus that it was a new game and a new opportunity and finding a way to get a win.”

It wasn’t all easy for the Lady Toppers, though.

They committed 12 turnovers and were shooting close to 38 percent until a strong surge in the last three minutes of the first half increased that percentage.

That same surge, highlighted by a 10-4 run by the Lady Toppers, closed an 11-point deficit, and they went into halftime down by just three.

WKU took its first lead since leading 4-0 in the first minute when junior forward Teranie Thomas hit a layup with 18:20 left to play in the second half. But North Texas came right back down and hit a 3-pointer to give itself a two-point lead at 40-38.

Shortly after that, there was a scuffle for the ball under the basket, and senior guard Amy McNear remained on the floor afterward favoring her left knee. After a couple of minutes, she was able to walk off the floor but limped to the locker room.

However, she returned to finish the game in a knee brace, finishing with six points and eight assists.

Once McNear returned, the Lady Toppers went on an 11-4 run that spanned nearly five minutes to take a 61-53 lead.

But North Texas wasn’t done yet, trimming the lead to three with 4:56 left to play. After the Lady Toppers had stretched the lead back to seven with 3:06 left to play, the Mean Green score four unanswered points and were down by just three again, this time with less than a minute to play.

McNear then went to the line on two occasions but missed four straight free throws, and North Texas still had a chance. But Brittney Hudson missed a 3-pointer with 25 seconds left that would have tied the game, and senior guard Hope Brown got the rebound and was fouled.

Brown, who hadn’t scored all game, hit two free throws to seal the game.

“Amy struggled at the free-throw line and Hope stepped up, really needing to hit those two free-throws, and she was huge.” Cowles said. “You like seeing things like that out of your seniors.”

The game was won in the paint. Thomas, who made her first start since her freshman year, scored 10 points and grabbed eight rebounds. Senior forward Arnika Brown had 14 points and 14 rebounds, bringing her three rebounds shy of 1,000 for her career.

Junior forward Keisha Mosley came off the bench to lead the Lady Toppers in scoring with 18 points, while also pulling down six rebounds. Sophomore forward Janae Howard also came off the bench and scored 15 points, including three 3-pointers, and grabbed five rebounds.

Thomas said WKU realized that North Texas couldn’t contain the post play, so the plan was to keep going back to it.

“We just understood that the post needed to touch the ball more,” she said. “If the shots were going to be off, we were going to be there to rebound.”

The Lady Toppers won the rebounding battle, 50-46.

Arnika Brown said Wednesday’s loss served as a wake-up call for the players and prompted them to come out much more focused Saturday.

“We just have to play from when the ball is tipped, regardless if you get ahead or are down the whole time,” she said. “We can’t relax.”

Junior guard Vanessa Obafemi, who has become a fixture in the starting lineup, didn’t see any action in Saturday’s game despite playing 18 minutes on Wednesday.

Cowles downplayed the situation and said Obafemi wasn’t injured, but that she simply wanted to try different rotations in Saturday’s game.

The Lady Toppers will now head to North Dakota at 7 p.m. Monday for a rare out-of-conference game in the middle of their conference schedule.

Arnika Brown said they’re trying not to think too much about the long travel — and what’s supposed to be sub-zero temperatures — and are just looking at it as another game.

“I’m just glad we play indoors,” she said. “But we just have to come out and be ready and play for 40 minutes.”