Western Kentucky senior guard Meral Abdelgawad’s hot streak continued in the Lady Toppers’ 98-88 win over Southern Miss on Thursday at E.A. Diddle Arena.
Abdelgawad finished with a career-high 36 points, eclipsing the career 1,000-point mark, as WKU (8-4 overall, 1-0 Conference USA) won its conference opener.
It was the third time in four games Abdelgawad has eclipsed 30 points in a game.
“This team, they trust me,” Abdelgawad said. “They are always helping me to get these points. I wouldn’t be able to do that without them. They are always helping me. I’m so happy to play with this group. They are always pushing me.”
WKU coach Greg Collins said this run isn’t different from the way Abdelgawad has played throughout her career.
“I think the difference that people are recognizing now is that Meral is putting points on the board,” Collins said. “She has always played with this passion, this energy and this drive. That is really what has separated her from other players.
“Now her game has grown and evolved where she’s a more complete player and added that offensive element where she is able to put points on the board.”
WKU freshman guard Alexis Mead said she loves playing with Abdelgawad.
“Like she said, I trust her 100 percent,” Mead said. “I believe in her. Even though she missed a couple of shots, I don’t care. I’m going to keep giving her the ball.
“It’s phenomenal that she keeps putting up numbers like that. Even when they are choking her, even when they are face-guarding her, we have so many weapons that when they start guarding us more it (leaves) her open.”
It was fellow freshman Mya Meredith who provided the early spark for WKU. Meredith scored seven points in the first four minutes to help the Lady Toppers build a 15-10 lead.
Southern Miss (8-4, 0-1) took its first – and only – lead on a putback by Kelsey Jones early in the second quarter that made the score 26-25, but WKU answered with a 9-2 spurt to regain the lead.
Southern Miss twice pulled even with about three minutes left in the half before WKU finished with another 9-2 run to push in front 48-41. Meredith had 15 points in the first half.
After going 0-for-3 from 3 in the first half, Abdelgawad hit three in the first 90 seconds of the second half to get going and help WKU build a 59-46 cushion.
Southern Miss hung around, getting within 70-68 with 7:50 left in the game, but Meredith’s 3 and Abdelgawad’s bucket provided some breathing room.
One final charge trimmed the deficit to 88-85, but Abdelgawad’s three-point play with two minutes left thwarted the comeback and allowed the senior guard to become the 42nd player in the program’s history to record 1,000 career points.
“I didn’t know that,” Abdelgawad said. “They didn’t tell me I could get it. I’m so happy to get 1,000 points. I couldn’t get that without (my teammates). They are always helping me.”
Abdelgawad finished 13-for-18 from the field, 5-for-9 from 3-point range and added eight rebounds and five assists.
Meredith had 24 points, while Mead finished with 13 points and five assists.
“It’s a good start to the (conference) season,” Mead said.
“It gives us confidence going out for the next game. Just a really good start for a young team.”
Melyia Grayson led Southern Miss with 24 points and nine rebounds, while Destiny Smith and Brikayla Gray added 15 points each.
“Southern Miss has always been a really well-coached team,” Collins said. “They don’t make a lot of mistakes. You have to play your best game to beat them. They’ve always been difficult to play against. I was really proud how we controlled the tempo. That was critical.”