The WKU women’s basketball team (5-2) travelled to McKeon Pavilion in Moraga, California, to participate in the Saint Mary’s Thanksgiving Classic last weekend, boasting a four-game winning streak that saw the Lady Toppers dominate NCAA Tournament-caliber teams.
WKU was slated to take on two opponents the Lady Toppers had never played in the program’s storied history — Tulsa (3-4) and host team Saint Mary’s (3-4).
Head coach Greg Collins spoke highly of both programs and believed they would provide a solid measurement of how good his team truly was.
“We’re excited about playing Tulsa and Saint Mary’s,” Collins said. “It’s another new type of test, one that we’re looking forward to, and we’ll find out what we got to do to keep getting better so when we come back we can fill this arena up for Oklahoma.”
The Lady Toppers handled the Golden Hurricane on Black Friday thanks to 18 points and 10 boards from junior forward Raneem Elgedawy and a stellar all-around performance by senior guard Whitney Creech, who tallied 15 points, five rebounds and five steals.
The following afternoon, the Lady Toppers experienced defeat for the first time in almost four weeks, as the Gaels used the 3-point shot early and often to build a large lead.
Collins said heading into the contest that defeating Saint Mary’s wouldn’t be easy.
“They were a team that was like a 40 RPI team last year,” Collins said. “They took Gonzaga to the wire in their conference championship game, so they were within an eyelash of getting to the NCAA Tournament. They are returning their top four scorers. And getting to play a team like that on their home floor, that’s what we’re looking forward to.”
Elgedawy willed WKU to a 16-point second-half comeback by controlling the paint with 27 points and 13 rebounds, but Saint Mary’s guard Sam Simons scored 25 points on eight 3-pointers and knocked down shots when the Gaels needed them most on Saturday.
The crushing 80-73 overtime defeat sustained by the Lady Toppers showcased a WKU squad that shot the ball poorly all night and struggled to guard the three-point line.
While the loss was a step in the wrong direction for the Lady Toppers, WKU has many upcoming opportunities to get back onto the hardwood against some tough competition.
WKU is set to take on Oklahoma (4-3) in its next contest, as the Lady Toppers will host the Sooners on Wednesday evening in Diddle Arena. The Sooners knocked off the Lady Toppers 90-83 in Norman, Oklahoma, early last season before finishing with an 8-22 overall record.
Oklahoma went 2-1 in the Preseason WNIT Tournament, losing to Missouri State in the semifinals. The Sooners have gone 2-2 since the event, including 0-2 on the road.
Over the first seven games, sophomore guard Taylor Robertson has averaged 19.7 points per game and shot 53% from behind the arc for the Sooners.
The other scoring threat for Oklahoma is junior guard Ana Llanusa, who is scoring 19.1 points and grabbing five rebounds per contest.
Both girls have scored 30 points this season — Robertson did it in her last outing against Wichita State on Saturday, and Llanusa did it against Missouri State on Nov. 14.
Following a home tilt at 6 p.m. on Wednesday, the Lady Toppers will then go on the road for their next five games to wrap up both non-conference play and the 2019 calendar year.
WKU will first travel to Muncie, Indiana, to take on Ball State (4-3) for the seventh consecutive year on Saturday. Ball State holds the overall lead in the all-time series, 5-3.
Last season, the Cardinals came into Diddle Arena and stole an 86-83 victory from the Lady Toppers before going on to an 8-23 campaign. WKU has dropped two straight to Ball State and will look to grab its first win since 2016 against the Cardinals.
The Lady Toppers are set to play at Samford (2-6) on Dec. 15 for the schools’ first-ever matchup in program history. Samford has struggled this year against a very tough schedule that included games against Florida, Florida State, Alabama-Birmingham and Kentucky.
WKU will take on a dominant Purdue (6-0) team on Dec. 18, meeting a Boilermaker squad that looks poised to have a big 2019-20 season. The Lady Toppers hold a 2-0 lead in the all-time series, but the teams have not faced off since the 1977 campaign.
The Lady Toppers will round out their away games with a short trip to Texas for their first two C-USA games of the season against North Texas (3-4) and Rice (4-3) on Jan. 2 and 4.
North Texas held tough last season, splitting both games with WKU, but the Lady Toppers hold the all-time series lead with a 20-7 mark. The Mean Green finished eleventh in the C-USA standings last season and were predicted to finish seventh this season by league coaches.
Rice defeated WKU twice last season, knocking the Lady Toppers out of the C-USA Tournament in March. The Owls went on to claim their first C-USA Tournament championship, and Rice was projected to win the conference once again in the preseason poll.
The Lady Toppers will have their work cut out for them during a daunting five-game road stretch, and their results may indicate how the rest of the season will play out for WKU.