The WKU women's basketball team (10-5, 2-2 C-USA) continued Conference USA action on Saturday evening, and the Lady Toppers outlasted league rival Middle Tennessee State (10-6, 2-2 C-USA) in a 71-63 battle for another home win in Diddle Arena.
The 100 Miles of Hate rivalry was renewed for the 75th meeting in series history, and it had even higher stakes than usual since both teams carried a top-50 RPI ranking nationally.
WKU pushed its perfect record in Diddle Arena to 6-0 on the season by knocking off the Blue Raiders, who were picked to finish second in the C-USA preseason coaches poll.
Head coach Greg Collins stressed the importance of picking up a second consecutive C-USA win following the Lady Toppers’ hard-fought victory.
“We have been transparent from the time we left Texas, as a team, about our standing,” Collins said. “We were really trying to break it up into a four-game tournament. I described it as being in the consolation bracket of a double-elimination tournament, and we have to win ourselves out of here so we can have a chance to compete for a bye and for a championship.”
The Lady Toppers shot a respectable 42% from the field, an abysmal 14% from deep and an outstanding 79% from the free-throw line. WKU dominated the paint all afternoon, outrebounding the Blue Raiders 43-29 and outscoring MTSU in the lane 44-28.
Senior point guard Whitney Creech outlined the Lady Toppers’ meticulous preparation, which Collins hopes will allow WKU to outrebound its opponents on a nightly basis going forward.
“That is an area that we have really been working on lately — defensive rebounding,” Creech said. “They are charting our box-outs for every game … So, that is something we are really taking pride in.”
Second-chance points also told the story of how the Lady Toppers controlled the glass, as WKU scored 19 points off offensive rebounds while the Blue Raiders only scored seven.
Junior forward Raneem Elgedawy played a huge game for the Lady Toppers, dropping in 21 points, securing 11 rebounds and swatting four blocks in 27 minutes of action.
Redshirt senior forward Dee Givens got it done on both ends as well, scoring 18 points, grabbing eight rebounds and amassing five steals over her 39 minutes.
Creech struggled for most of the night statistically, but she still finished with 10 points in 38 minutes played. Sophomore guard Meral Abdelgawad and junior guard Sherry Porter contributed nine and eight points, respectively, for the Lady Toppers.
MTSU shot 41% from the field, 29% from deep and 71% from the charity stripe. The Blue Raiders made five more 3-pointers and had four more assists than the Lady Toppers, but MTSU was unable to control any other major statistical category.
Freshman guard Aislynn Hayes played with experience beyond her years, scoring 18 points and posting five rebounds and five assists in 39 minutes.
Her sister, redshirt sophomore guard Anastasia Hayes, also posted solid numbers offensively by dropping in 12 points, pulling down six rebounds and distributing six assists. The elder Hayes played all 40 minutes for the Blue Raiders.
Senior forward Charity Savage shot a perfect 5 for 5 from the field en route to 11 points and five rebounds for MTSU.
The Lady Toppers busted out of the gates with four quick points thanks to their stellar energy and effort on the defensive end. WKU held the Blue Raiders scoreless for the first 2:35 and forced a turnover that led to a layup from Porter on the other end.
MTSU answered with a 7-2 run of its own, and the Blue Raiders grabbed their second one-point lead of the game at 7-6 with 6:01 left in the first quarter.
Abdelgawad grabbed the lead back for the Lady Toppers with 5:32 remaining in the period on her second bucket in the paint.
Elgedawy followed Abdelgawad's layup with a 3-pointer at the top of the key as the shot clock expired, extending the WKU scoring run to 6-0.
Following the Lady Topper run, MTSU regained its offensive footing and climbed back into the game with a late 3-pointer by sophomore guard Alexis Whittington. The make cut the WKU lead to only three points at the end of the first quarter, 18-15.
Three Lady Topper turnovers in the final 1:45 of the quarter opened the door for the Blue Raiders and halted any momentum WKU held going into the second 10 minutes of action.
The Lady Toppers came out of the break scorching hot from the field, attacking the rim at will and hitting four of their first five shots. Givens scored six of the eight WKU points in the first 3:09 of the second and added her second steal of the game to her stat line in the process.
MTSU was able to hold its own during this stretch thanks to a scoring outburst from Anastasia Hayes. She scored the Blue Raiders’ first seven points in the second and kept them in striking distance when the Lady Toppers seemed to hold all the momentum.
Following Givens’ bucket at the 6:52 mark in the second, MTSU ripped off a 7-0 scoring run and took yet another one-point lead over WKU with 3:34 left in the half, 27-26.
Porter answered for the Lady Toppers on their next two possessions, knocking down a deep 3-pointer to grab the lead back and dishing an assist to junior college transfer Fatou Pouye as the shot clock ran out with 1:28 remaining in the period.
The Blue Raiders answered both plays by Porter with buckets in the paint, and MTSU entered the halftime break tied with WKU at 31-31.
MTSU held the Lady Toppers to just two makes on their final 12 shots to end the half, while the Blue Raiders made five of their last six shots and shot 60% overall from the field in the second quarter to eliminate any advantage for WKU going into the intermission.
The Lady Toppers and the Blue Raiders came out scoring in bunches in the third quarter, but both teams were getting it done in different ways.
WKU relentlessly attacked the lane, finishing layups and getting to the free-throw line. MTSU took a perimeter-oriented approach, hitting its first two 3-pointers and drawing a foul on another 3-point attempt.
The Lady Toppers were finally able to break loose a bit, stringing together a quick 6-0 scoring run to take a slim four-point lead with 6:27 left in the third, 43-39.
But the Blue Raiders simply refused to go away, responding to every WKU make and run with a bucket of their own.
MTSU shaved the Lady Topper lead to one with a deep 3-pointer by sophomore guard Taylor Sutton with 41 seconds left in the quarter, but WKU would have a chance to answer.
Elgedawy drew a controversial foul with 1.4 seconds remaining in an attempt to snatch a defensive rebound. After much deliberation, she then drained 1 of 2 free throws, pushing the Lady Topper lead to two points going into the fourth, 52-50.
Abdelgawad came out aggressively in the fourth, mounting a 5-0 scoring run on her own after a layup and a successful and-one opportunity.
Elgedawy joined Abdelgawad in the scoring column for the quarter, dropping in back-to-back layups to push the WKU run to 9-2 and swell the Lady Topper lead to nine points with 6:57 remaining in the game, 61-52.
Givens added to the offensive assault with an unsuccessful and-one, extending the WKU lead to 11 and causing MTSU freshman forward Courtney Whitson to foul out with 4:54 left to play.
The Blue Raiders picked up the pace on both ends following the bucket by Givens. MTSU put together a 7-2 run, cutting the Lady Topper lead to just six with 3:10 remaining in the fourth.
Creech and Elgedawy answered with layups on back-to-back possessions to bring the WKU lead back to eight with 1:58 left to play, 68-60.
The Blue Raiders scratched and clawed to make a late comeback against the Lady Toppers, but MTSU was unable to string enough stops together to significantly cut into the WKU lead.
The Lady Toppers finished the game without a field goal in the final 2:40, but WKU’s stellar shooting from the charity stripe throughout the game — especially down the stretch — helped Collins’ squad secure an eight-point victory over its archnemesis.
Following the win, the Lady Toppers will hit the road and travel to Norfolk, Virginia, before continuing C-USA play against Old Dominion (12-3, 2-1 C-USA).
The Lady Monarchs are guided by head coach Nikki McCray-Penson, who enjoyed a stellar nine-year professional basketball career in the WNBA after she finished a four-year college career playing under the legendary Pat Summitt at Tennessee.
Tipoff in Chartway Arena is slated for 5:30 p.m. on Jan. 16.
The game will be streamed live for ESPN+ subscribers.