The WKU women's basketball team (11-6, 3-3 C-USA) proceeded through another round of Conference USA play on Saturday evening, as the Lady Toppers outworked Charlotte (11-5, 2-3 C-USA) in a 60-56 road win in Dale F. Halton Arena in Charlotte, North Carolina.
WKU was able to push its all-time record against the 49ers to 19-5 overall, avenging the Lady Toppers’ crushing defeat at the hands of Charlotte on Jan. 5, 2017, which was the last time the two league rivals met up in Halton Arena.
That thrilling overtime affair resulted in an 89-85 victory for the 49ers, proving to be one of only two conference losses for WKU in its 2016-17 campaign.
The Lady Toppers shot 40% from the field, an abysmal 15% from deep and a woeful 56% from the free-throw line on Saturday. But WKU outrebounded Charlotte 40-33 and scored seven more points off turnovers to propel the Lady Toppers to a sloppy victory.
Junior forward Raneem Elgedawy and sophomore guard Meral Abdelgawad each scored a team-high 14 points for the Lady Toppers. Elgedawy also secured nine rebounds in her 35 minutes of action.
Senior point guard Whitney Creech struggled mightily from the field, scoring eight points on 3-of-10 shooting in 27 minutes.
Redshirt senior forward Dee Givens scored seven points on 3-of-10 shooting from the field, failing to convert on any of her five 3-point opportunities.
Charlotte shot 41% from the field, 22% from deep and 67% from the charity stripe. The 49ers shot a better percentage than WKU in every major category and scored 11 more bench points than the Lady Toppers, but struggled with turnovers and rebounding throughout the game.
Junior guard Octavia Jett-Wilson carried the 49ers offensively, dropping in 17 points in 27 minutes. Sophomore guard Jada McMillian scored 14 points of her own on an efficient 6-of-7 shooting performance in 35 minutes.
Redshirt senior guard Jade Phillips proved to be the only reliable rebounder for Charlotte, as she grabbed seven boards to go along with her seven points on 3-of-10 shooting from the field.
Abdelgawad started the game with a bang for the Lady Toppers, drilling a deep 3-pointer and grabbing the first lead of the contest only 12 seconds in.
Following the bucket by Abdelgawad, the two teams engaged in a seesaw battle over the entire first quarter of action where neither side could gain a clear advantage.
The first period ended with Charlotte holding a slim 15-14 lead. The 49ers held WKU to only 38% shooting in the frame, but Charlotte was fortunate to be in the lead, as the Lady Toppers outhustled Charlotte and snatched five more offensive rebounds than the 49ers in the frame.
The enthusiastic rebounding performance helped WKU stay within striking distance, and a game-high eight points by Abdelgawad in the frame also helped.
The Lady Toppers’ woes at the charity stripe aided Charlotte more than the 49ers’ defensive efforts, as WKU failed to convert any of its five free throw attempts in the quarter.
The second quarter started with neither team scoring for the first two minutes of play. Redshirt senior guard Alexis Brewer took the lid off the basket by draining the Lady Toppers’ first free throw of the day, tying the game at 15-15 with eight minutes remaining in the half.
Brewer followed her free throw with a made 3-pointer, as she went on a 4-0 mini-run of her own to grab a three-point lead back for WKU.
The WKU lead was short-lived, as redshirt junior guard Christian Hithe netted her second 3-pointer of the game and took the lead back for Charlotte.
Hithe’s made basket capped a 7-2 49er run and allowed Charlotte to take a two-point lead with 5:27 left in the second.
A back-and-forth battle in the paint ensued following a media timeout, as both teams attacked the lane for every bucket after the 5:34 mark in the second period.
Givens finished off an exhilarating 20 minutes of action with 59 seconds left in the half, as the senior leader converted a tough and-one and grabbed a mere 29-27 advantage for the Lady Toppers going into the intermission.
The 49ers outshot WKU throughout the entire first half, but turnovers and offensive rebounding plagued Charlotte. Those miscuses allowed the Lady Toppers to remain in the game and eventually snatch the lead before the halftime break.
The second half started in the same fashion as the first, with both teams struggling to find points in the early going. Elgedawy opened up the scoring for WKU with another layup, bringing her point total to 10 and extending the Lady Topper lead to four with 8:12 left in the third.
Charlotte refused to go away without a fight, as the 49ers strung two baskets together and tied the game at 31-31 with 6:35 remaining in the third quarter.
A media timeout at the 4:49 mark in the third seemed to inspire a struggling Creech, as she knocked down two free throws and a mid-range jump shot to reclaim a four point lead for WKU with 3:54 left in the frame.
Charlotte responded yet again, mounting a 4-0 run in only 59 seconds to tie the game for the second time in the third period.
The Lady Toppers answered loudly to finish the third quarter, as WKU put together an 8-0 run built on layups and free throws from four different Lady Toppers.
WKU held a 43-35 lead going into the final 10 minutes of action, managing to hold Charlotte scoreless over the final 2:55 of the third quarter.
The defensive struggle continued into the first 5:07 of the fourth quarter, as both teams traded buckets.
The Lady Toppers showed no signs of relinquishing their eight-point lead early on, but Charlotte began mounting a comeback attempt at the 5:12 mark in the fourth. The 7-2 run the 49ers ripped off cut the WKU lead to just five with four minutes remaining in the game.
Elgedawy and Abdelgawad stepped up when the Lady Toppers needed them most, dropping in back-to-back layups and swelling the WKU lead to nine with 2:46 left in the fourth.
Jett-Wilson and McMillian continued to carry the Charlotte offensive attack, as they combined for a 6-0 scoring run. This run cut the Lady Topper lead to three with 1:36 remaining in the game, forcing Collins to call a timeout to regroup his team.
Both teams converted layups following the WKU timeout, keeping the Lady Topper lead at three with 43 seconds left to play.
After multiple timeouts, numerous defensive stops and a made free throw by junior guard Sherry Porter, WKU secured the hard-fought win by a four-point margin.
Following the win, the Lady Toppers will be inactive for seven days before a road trip to Huntington, West Virginia, for a C-USA battle at Marshall (7-10, 2-4 C-USA) next week.
The Thundering Herd are led by freshman guard Savannah Wheeler and junior guard Kristen Mayo, two top-25 scorers among all qualified C-USA players this season.
Tipoff in the Cam Henderson Center is slated for noon on Jan. 25.
The game will be streamed live for ESPN+ subscribers.