The Western Kentucky women’s basketball team put together a dominant first half on Thursday against visiting UTEP.
The Lady Toppers used a 17-2 first-quarter run to pull ahead, forced 11 turnovers and shot the ball well through the first two quarters to build a 27-point lead before holding off the Miners 78-65 to move to 9-0 at E.A. Diddle Arena this season.
“We came out focused and ready to play hard, and when we stopped playing hard, that’s when things changed,” WKU coach Greg Collins said. “ … One of the things you want and one of the things you don’t want is a big early lead because then you spend the whole rest of the game trying to increase that or trying to protect that lead and it’s tough.”
The win was the seventh straight for WKU (17-6 overall, 9-3 C-USA) and ninth in the team’s last 10 games. The Lady Toppers, who will play four of their final six regular-season games at home, won the program’s 11th consecutive game at Diddle. The 10-game streak entering Thursday was tied for 17th nationally.
Dee Givens started the game with a deep 3-pointer, putting WKU ahead of UTEP (13-10, 6-6) for good. Ariona Gill made a layup with 7:39 left in the first to tie the game 5-all, but the Lady Toppers responded by scoring 21 of the next 25 points to take a 17-point lead
The Lady Toppers forced seven turnovers in the opening frame and scored half of their points off of them. The run was highlighted by a steal and layup from Meral Abdelgawad, who was fouled on her shot attempt. She followed the make with a flex and UTEP coach Kevin Baker called a timeout to try to slow the Lady Toppers. Abdelgawad made the free throw out of the timeout and Elgedawy made two free throws to end the run. Gill made another layup with 17 seconds remaining in the period to make it a 26-11 game heading to the second. WKU finished with 23 points off 19 UTEP turnovers, with Givens leading the way defensively with six steals.
“Every day in practice we start off with defense,” Givens said. “I think we practice mostly on defense and rebounding, so that’s really just our main focus going into every game, just defense and boxing out on rebounds. I think that just carries over to the game.”
WKU opened the second quarter on a 12-2 run, highlighted by two 3-pointers from Alexis Brewer, to take a 38-13 lead by the 6:07 mark in the period. By the media timeout with 4:55 in the period, Raneem Elgedawy had recorded a double-double – her C-USA-leading 12th of the season. Elgedawy finished the game with 16 points and 14 rebounds. Givens also had 16 points, while Brewer and Abdelgawad led the team with 17 each.
Brewer, who was making her third consecutive start in place of injured Sherry Porter, and De’Myla Brown each added 3-pointers later in the frame to give WKU a 27-point lead with 3:29 left in the half. The Lady Toppers were 4-for-7 (57.1 percent) from beyond the arc in the frame, 5-for-13 (38.5 percent) in the first half and finished 8-for-25 in the game. WKU has shot 22-for-58 (37.9 percent) from 3-point range in its last three games, after struggling through conference play up to that point. Brewer was 3-for-5 from behind the arc Thursday after going a combined 6-for-8 at Louisiana Tech and Southern Miss last week.
“Sherry being out, somebody had to step up into that role and take what she has been doing for the team, so my confidence went up at La Tech I think,” Brewer said. “The shots were just going in and I think that really boosted my confidence for the rest of the season.”
Down by 27, UTEP started to rally.
The Miners closed the first half on an 11-0 run, with five points coming from Katia Gallegos and four from Michelle Pruitt, to make it a 44-28 game at halftime. Pruitt finished the game with 17 points, second on the team to Ariona Gills’ 19.
“I told them at halftime, ‘It doesn’t matter what the score is. It matters about how you play. It doesn’t matter if we’re up two or 20 or 200, it matters how you play the game,’ “ Collins said. “And we stopped playing the game somewhere in the second quarter the way we started the first and maybe half the second quarter.
“ .... I told them at the end that the best thing is sometimes you don’t play well and you still figure out a way to win and that’s all that matters, and we can move forward to Saturday.”
Brewer began the second half with a wide-open layup, but UTEP responded with a 7-0 run to pull within 11. The Miners got within single digits twice in the frame – once on a free throw from Gill that capped a 6-0 run with 2:04 remaining and again on a layup from Pruitt with 28 seconds remaining – but Givens made a jumper in the paint to put the Lady Toppers back ahead 58-47 entering the fourth.
Abdelgawad opened the final period with a 3-pointer to push WKU back up by 14, but UTEP scored seven straight points to pull within seven. Givens made a big 3-pointer to push WKU back up by 10. UTEP scored the next five points to pull within five before two free throws from Brewer, but a make from Pruitt once again made it a five-point game with 2:45 to play.
Brewer made a jumper to start a 9-2 Lady Topper run, which was highlighted by a corner 3-pointer from Abdelgawad with 1:07 remaining and time nearing expiration on the shot clock to put WKU back ahead by double figures, before closing out the 78-65 victory.
The Lady Toppers return to E.A. Diddle Arena on Saturday for a 2 p.m. game against UTSA.