The 2019-20 campaign has been an up-and-down affair for the WKU women’s basketball team (12-6, 4-3 C-USA). The Lady Toppers raced to an impressive start in non-conference home games, stumbled to a 5-6 mark in games played away from Diddle Arena and now find themselves in relatively solid position after notching a second consecutive road win.
The Lady Toppers began the season on an absolute tear, winning eight of their first 10 games and dominating opponents at home even though their first five games featured five NCAA Tournament teams from a season ago and four preseason conference favorites.
Head coach Greg Collins guided his team to a 4-1 mark against those formidable foes, and while he showed his approval of the Lady Toppers’ strong start, he also acknowledged there was still work to be done if the Lady Toppers wanted to compete in the postseason.
“I think we’ve not adjusted as well as the other team has adjusted to our game plan,” Collins said. “I think we’ve come out with a decent game plan, executed fairly well in the first quarter and then good teams, good coaches — they adjust, they change. And so, we’ve got a little bit more growth, a little bit more learning to do on how to adjust to game plans from the bench and carry those things out on the floor and stay locked in.”
WKU improved to a blistering 8-2 opening after an 88-84 road win at Samford on Dec. 15. But the Lady Toppers have sputtered a lot ever since, resulting in a 12-6 overall record.
Scheduling has been a major issue for the Lady Toppers, as the team has played at home just twice since its 74-63 marquee home win against Power 5 opponent Oklahoma on Dec. 4.
The Lady Toppers are a perfect 6-0 in games played in the friendly confines of Diddle Arena, but WKU has posted a sub-.500 record in true away games this season.
During a 41-day span from Dec. 15 through Jan. 25 — which coincided with winter break on the Hill — the Lady Toppers dropped four of their seven scheduled road contests, capturing two away wins by a four-point margin and claiming a nine-point win over Marshall on Saturday.
The road definitely hasn't been kind to WKU, and the team’s struggles have shed light on two key deficiencies as Conference USA action rolls on — rebounding on the road and consistent scoring from players who are expected to be key contributors.
“We’ve just not been shooting the ball well from the three-point line at all,” Collins said. “It’s surprising that we have as many good shooters that all seem to be in the same slump at the same time. But on the road, you’ve got to focus on defensive rebounding, and you’ve got to find another way to win.”
Since classes let out on Dec. 13, the Lady Toppers have been outrebounded in each of their road contests except a 60-56 victory at Charlotte on Jan. 18 and a 74-65 victory against the Thundering Herd over the weekend.
During games played between Dec. 15 and Jan. 18, WKU’s opponents grabbed 40 more rebounds overall at home and roughly 6.7 more per game.
In addition to the Lady Toppers’ struggles on the boards in away games, key contributors on the offensive end experienced drops in production during the winter break.
Junior guard Sherry Porter began the break with a strong 18-point performance at Samford, but her scoring numbers dropped drastically following the win. Porter was held scoreless in the next two contests for WKU and failed to score in double figures in any game beyond that point.
Senior point guard Whitney Creech broke her 10-game streak of scoring at least 15 points when she failed to reach double figures for the first time this season in a 61-54 road loss at North Texas on Jan. 2. On that night, Creech scored nine points on 3-of-9 shooting.
Following her game against the Mean Green, Creech shot over 50% only once and was held to single-digit scoring outputs two more times. She also made just a single 3-pointer in the final six games of this stretch, which was reminiscent of her past offensive struggles.
Redshirt senior forward Dee Givens also struggled to find her stroke, seeing her points per game average drop by nearly three points and her 3-point shooting numbers dwindle.
In the final game before classes let out, Givens posted a career-high 41 points in 41 minutes of action during a 91-86 overtime victory at Ball State on Dec. 7.
The Lexington native shot 40% from the field over her next eight games and struggled mightily from behind the arc, draining only 15% of her 3-point attempts. Givens was also held to under 10 points twice and under 15 points five times.
After following her record-breaking performance with a string of lackluster shooting games, Givens appeared to break out of her slump by scoring a team-high 24 points on four made 3-pointers in Huntington, West Virginia, on Saturday.
“It felt amazing,” Givens said. “You know, I felt like I hadn’t made a three in like two months, so it felt good finally getting my shot back together.”
The one consistent bright spot for the Lady Toppers has been junior forward Raneem Elgedawy, whose 16.7 points and 9.8 rebounds per game are both career-highs.
WKU will look for similar rebounding and scoring performances from its other key players down the stretch, a feat that might be aided by playing seven of its 11 remaining games at home and finishing its most recent road stretch on a two-game winning streak.
The Lady Toppers currently rank No. 6 in C-USA with a 4-3 mark against league opponents. WKU will aim to remain unbeaten in Bowling Green and attain a top-four poll position, which would in turn secure a first-round bye in the C-USA Tournament.
Collins and company will begin an important push toward the postseason against Florida Atlantic (9-10, 3-5 C-USA) on Thursday. Tipoff in Diddle Arena is scheduled for 6 p.m.