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Sophomore guard Meral Abdelgawad (40) receives some feedback from WKU women's basketball head coach Greg Collins during the Lady Toppers' game against Belmont in Diddle Arena on Wednesday, Nov. 13 in Bowling Green.

The WKU women's basketball team (8-4, 0-1 C-USA) opened both Conference USA play and the 2020 calendar year with an up-and-down performance on Thursday night, as the Lady Toppers led by as many as 11 points and later trailed by as much as 19 before suffering a 61-54 road loss against North Texas (7-6, 1-0 C-USA) in the Super Pit in Denton, Texas.

Coming into the tough road test, WKU had collected an 8-3 record through non-conference play and had the highest RPI of any C-USA team heading into conference play at No. 33.

WKU was also 5-0 all-time in C-USA openers, defeating Charlotte, Middle Tennessee State, Florida Atlantic and Marshall twice in previous seasons.

But the Lady Toppers seemed to have some rust to shake off against the Mean Green, shooting 32% from the field, 10% from deep and 77% from the free-throw line in their first game in 15 days. 

WKU was outrebounded 53-39 and also converted just two 3-pointers compared to 10 made shots from beyond the arc for North Texas.

Junior forward Raneem Elgedawy proved to be the most productive Lady Topper, as she scored 15 points and pulled down nine rebounds. Redshirt senior forward Dee Givens scored 10 points on 33% shooting and added nine rebounds to her stat line. 

Redshirt senior forward Sandra Skinner had a breakout game, scoring seven points on three shots and securing seven rebounds in 12 minutes of action.

Senior point guard Whitney Creech struggled, scoring only nine points in 32 minutes. Junior guard Sherry Porter saw a substantial drop in playing time, and she failed to score at all in her 12 minutes on the floor.

North Texas shot 32% from the field, 48% from three and 69% from the charity stripe. The Mean Green held the lead for over 25 minutes of play, thanks in part to 26 bench points.

Freshman guard Randi Thompson was stroking it from deep all night, as she made half of the team’s 10 3-pointers and tallied 17 points. 

Sophomore forward Charlene Shepherd dropped in 10 points of her own and controlled the paint for the Mean Green, snatching 23 rebounds and swatting three blocks in 36 minutes. 

Redshirt junior guard Callie Owens added 13 points and eight rebounds of her own to help North Texas secure a solid home win to open up the new decade.

The Lady Toppers and the Mean Green both started the game shooting the ball horrifically, as WKU made 25% of their shots before the first media timeout at 4:45 in the first quarter and North Texas only shot 11% during that same stretch.

While neither team could get the lid off the bucket, the Mean Green showed tenacity on the boards, outrebounding the Lady Toppers 9-2 and creating five more shots than WKU before the first media timeout. 

North Texas was finally able to knock down its second shot of the game with 3:29 left in the period, as Thompson drained a deep 3-pointer to push the Mean Green lead to 5-3.

The Lady Toppers answered with a quick 6-0 run of their own to finish out the quarter and snatched a 9-5 lead going into the second.

Despite its own shooting woes, WKU held North Texas to 2-of-20 shooting in the first quarter and forced eight Mean Green turnovers in the first 10 minutes of action.

WKU came out hot in the second quarter, scoring seven straight and pushing the Lady Topper scoring run to 13-0. The WKU lead was 11 with 7:31 left in the half, but no Lady Topper had scored more than four points at that point in the contest.

But North Texas refused to go down without a fight, as Thompson drained her second 3-pointer of the game and finally halted the colossal WKU scoring run.

Junior guard Summer Jones came down 35 seconds later and sunk a huge fastbreak three for the Mean Green to cut the Lady Topper lead to five with 6:05 left in the frame. 

Thompson continued her tear from deep, hitting yet another three and pushing the Mean Green run to 9-0. Skinner temporarily stalled the North Texas comeback with a layup, but the Mean Green continued their assault. 

North Texas grabbed its first lead of the game with 3:54 left in the half and had no intentions of letting it go, as the Mean Green rode a 22-2 run to a nine-point lead and a 27-18 advantage over WKU going into the halftime break.

The Mean Green held the Lady Toppers scoreless over the final 4:29 of the half and forced WKU into 22% shooting over the first two quarters. North Texas also outrebounded WKU 33-19 and made four more 3-pointers than the Lady Toppers in the first half.

The second half started the same way the first half ended — with North Texas scoring at will. The Mean Green scored the first five points of the quarter and forced WKU head coach Greg Collins to call for a timeout 1:17 into the third. 

The Lady Toppers finally broke into the scoring column for the first time since the 4:29 mark in the second quarter with a layup by Elgedawy. Givens followed that with a fastbreak bucket of her own to force a North Texas timeout with 7:35 left in the third. 

Thompson came out of the break firing yet again, hitting two 3-pointers for the Mean Green and slowing the WKU comeback attempt. She pushed the North Texas lead up to 14 after her second 3-pointer with 5:45 left in the third.

Givens led the way for the Lady Toppers in the third and scored eight points in the quarter, but her efforts were for naught.

The Mean Green outscored WKU 25-20 in the quarter and extended their lead to 14 going into the final 10 minutes of action. To that point. North Texas had experienced absolute domination on the boards and netted ten 3-pointers through three quarters.

Elgedawy and Skinner tag-teamed for a 7-2 run to begin the fourth quarter, and the duo shaved the Mean Green lead to single digits early on.

Redshirt freshman guard Myriah Haywood got in on the party as well, scoring on a short jump shot and cutting the North Texas lead down to seven with 6:21 remaining in the game. 

Following a WKU timeout with 6:21 left in the fourth, the Lady Toppers went on a quick 5-2 run and cut their deficit to four points with 2:04 remaining in the game.

The defensive intensity WKU showcased in the first quarter returned and allowed the Lady Toppers to make this comeback, as WKU held North Texas scoreless for 4:31 of clock time. 

The Mean Green soon snapped their scoring drought, as Shepherd hit back-to-back layups to extend the North Texas lead to 60-52 and finish the Lady Toppers off for good. 

Following the seven-point loss, the Lady Toppers will continue C-USA play at preseason C-USA favorite Rice (6-6, 1-0 C-USA) on Jan. 4. The Owls opened league action with an 81-43 blowout win at home against Marshall (5-7, 0-1 C-USA) on Thursday night.

Tipoff in Tudor Fieldhouse is slated for 2 p.m. on Saturday.

The game will be streamed live for ESPN+ subscribers.

Reporter Jesse Spencer can be reached at jesse.spencer782@topper.wku.edu. Follow Jesse on Twitter at @jesse_spencer_5.

Jesse Spencer is a sports reporter for the College Heights Herald.