WKU win streak reaches six games after defeating Rice


WKU Athletics

Western Kentucky University Junior Guard Meral Abdelgawad drives to the basket during The Hilltoppers 71-54 loss to Mercer College on December 18, 2020 at the EA Diddle Arena in Bowling Green, KY.

Joseph Thompson, Women's basketball reporter

The Lady Toppers (11-4, 4-0 C-USA) improved their win streak to six games after defeating the Rice Owls (5-5, 0-2 C-USA) 78-61 Thursday night at Tudor Fieldhouse in Houston, Texas. This is WKU’s first time beating Rice since 2017.

Senior forward Meral Abdelgawad tied the WKU record for most 30-point games in a single season with her fourth 30-point game of the year. She was the head of the Lady Toppers’ high-power scoring attack in Thursday’s conference matchup.

The offense was efficient all night. WKU shot 30-of-61 (49.2%) from the field and 9-of-26 (34.6%) from behind the three-point line. Greg Collins’ team outscored Rice 42-32 in the paint. The Lady Toppers shot 9-of-14 (64.3%) from the free throw line and were also explosive in transition, scoring 20 fast break points to the Owls’ seven. WKU did a solid job taking care of the ball against Rice, finishing the game with 19 turnovers.

Defense has been a staple for the Lady Toppers all season. They are ranked second in the conference in steals and stole the ball from the Owls 14 times. They held the Owls to 24-of-65 (36.9%) field goal shooting and just 4-of-25 (16%) from behind the arc. 

The WKU defense held Conference USA’s fourth leading scorer, Rice forward Austin Ashlee, to only five points on 2-of-6 shooting. She was averaging 17.1 points per game entering the contest. 

Abdelgawad and freshman forward Mya Meredith were the Lady Toppers’ standout performers of the game. Abdelgawad had a game-high 33 points, four assists and three steals. Meredith scored 20 points, grabbed eight rebounds and played stifling defense, racking up five steals. 

WKU struggled in the first quarter against junior guard Haylee Swayze. She scored 10 of Rice’s 15 points in the quarter. Abdelgawad responded with an impressive first quarter of her own with eight of WKU’s 15 first quarter points. 

The Owls began the second quarter on a 6-0 run before the Lady Toppers answered with an 8-0 run of their own. Rice started the second quarter in a man-to-man defense, switching from their zone defense they utilized in the first quarter. 

WKU scored on three straight possessions from backdoor cuts, exposing Rice’s man defense and forcing the Owls to call a timeout at the 4:02 mark of the second quarter. The Lady Toppers led 32-29 at halftime.

Abdelwgawad has been a major problem for defenses all season, but she has been on fire the past seven games, scoring 20-plus in those seven games while scoring 30 or more points in three of those contests. She caught fire in the third quarter, scoring 15 of her 33 points. The Owls made a late run in the quarter to keep the game close.

WKU pulled away from the owls in the fourth quarter. The Lady Toppers outscored the Owls 25-13 in the final frame thanks to contributions from freshman guard Jenna Walker and sophomore guard Teresa Faustino. 

Both hit big threes that kept the momentum in WKU’s favor. WKU went on to win its sixth consecutive game 78-61. 

The Lady Toppers’ next game will be Saturday, Jan. 15 against the North Texas Mean Green at the UNT Coliseum in Denton, Texas.

Women’s basketball reporter Joseph Thompson can be reached at [email protected].