Abdelgawad’s 28 points leads Lady Toppers to a blowout win


Arthur H. Trickett-Wile

WKU Lady Topper senior guard Meral Abdelgawad (4) shoots for two Saturday afternoon, Jan. 22 of 2022 during a match against the FIU Panthers in Diddle Arena. FIU lost 87-66.

Joseph Thompson, Women's Basketball Reporter

The Lady Toppers (14-4, 7-0 C-USA) improved their win streak to nine games after defeating the Florida International Panthers (9-7, 1-4 C-USA) Saturday afternoon in Diddle Arena. WKU defended its home court in front of the 1991-92 Lady Toppers, who were inducted into the WKU Athletics Hall of Fame at halftime. 

The WKU offense was incredible, dominating the Panthers 40-26 in the paint. The Lady Toppers shot 31-of-56 (55.5%) from the field and 9-of-22 (40.9%) from behind the three-point line and played at an outstanding pace all game. They scored 13 fast-break points and controlled the boards. WKU out-rebounded FIU 37-29. The 5-foot-5 freshman Alexis Mead grabbed four of the team’s 15 offensive rebounds.

The Lady Toppers’ defense held the Panthers to an average shooting performance. FIU shot 25-of-59 (40%) from the field and 10-of-23 (43%) from behind the arc. 

WKU was dominant defensively in the interior, only allowing 26 points in the paint and stealing the ball from FIU 14 times. The Lady Toppers also held the Panthers to just six fast-break points. WKU forced 24 FIU turnovers and converted its miscues into 31 points. 

“We did a lousy job of guarding the three-point line, and we have to do a better job next week or UAB and Middle Tennessee are going to bust our heads, because they are both excellent three-point shooting teams,” WKU head coach Greg Collins said. “We’ve been doing a decent job there, and we have to get back to that and improve for next week.”

Senior forward Meral Abdelgawad was the standout player of the game. She scored 28 points, grabbed six rebounds and dished out five assists. Abdelgawad is the sole senior of the Lady Toppers team. Freshman Mya Meredith said the team feeds off her energy every game. 

“Coach is always telling me that if my energy is high, the team’s energy will be up with me,” Abdelgawad said. “If my energy’s low, they’ll be sleeping in the corner. I try to keep the energy high every game. Last game I struggled shooting the ball, so I was just trying to keep the energy high for them. I try to keep doing that every game and every practice so that they play hard every game.”

The Lady Toppers controlled the game from the opening tip. Within the first four minutes of action, WKU forced two shot clock violations and four turnovers while getting out to a 13-3 lead. FIU made an early run by hitting back-to-back three pointers. Abdelgawad had 13 points at the end of the first quarter.

The Lady Toppers maintained their lead in the second quarter with contributions from the majority of the roster. Freshman guards Teresa Faustino and Macey Blevins hit multiple three pointers to widen the margin for WKU. 

The Lady Toppers’ defense was the story of the first half. They forced six Panther turnovers and stole the ball six times. Nine of the 12 Lady Toppers scored in the first half. Meredith scored with 0.9 left on the game clock, giving WKU a 45-30 lead at halftime. 

FIU came out of halftime in a full court press looking to force WKU turnovers and get easy baskets in transition. The Lady Toppers struggled with the pressure, allowing the Panthers to go on a 18-6 scoring run to end the third quarter.

WKU dominated FIU in the fourth quarter from the opening seconds. The Lady Toppers scored seven points in the first minute while their defense only allowed five fourth-quarter points in the first seven minutes.

“They’re rolling in their belief in one another,” Collins said. “I think each of them had a belief that they were a good basketball player and they’re starting to grow and believe that they’re greater together than they are individually, and that’s what makes it special.”

WKU will travel to Birmingham, Ala., to take on the UAB Blazers Thursday at 6 p.m. in Bartow Arena.

Women’s Basketball Reporter Joseph Thompson can be reached at [email protected].