The Lady Toppers were rolling to start Conference USA play.

Western Kentucky’s women’s basketball team opened league play with victories over Southern Miss and Louisiana Tech last week and have won eight of their past nine games, including four straight.

The Lady Toppers will now take that streak on the road to face Florida International at 11 a.m. CT Saturday at Ocean Bank Convocation Center in Miami.

“Each week we keep getting better,” WKU head coach Greg Collins said on his weekly radio show. “They keep getting more and more competitive. As much as it sounds silly to say that I’m proud of our defense in a 98-88 game (against Southern Miss) – in both of those games I was really proud of the defense. We had some breakdowns, but overall each week this team keeps getting better and better defensively and that’s going to serve us well on the road.”

WKU (9-4 overall, 2-0 C-USA) is one of two teams in C-USA to have played a league contest and not have a loss in league play after the first week, with Marshall being the other.

The Lady Toppers have the second-best scoring offense in C-USA at 75.7 points per game and are led by Meral Abdelgawad – the only player not a freshman or sophomore on the team. Abdelgawad is averaging 19.4 points and 8.8 rebounds per game, marks that are second and fifth in the league heading into this week’s games, respectively.

“I told the team, I said, ‘You’re getting a reputation. Everybody’s getting worried about our transition offense,’ “ Collins said on the show. “You can hear the other coaches, you can see the anxiety on the other players sprinting back on defense, and the most impressive thing about this bunch is we still get layups, we still get run outs and we still get transition 3s – and that’s what we practice almost every day.

“ ... They take a lot of pride in that. We keep pushing that button on offense as often as we can. That all starts with that defensive effort.”

FIU (8-3, 0-0) had its scheduled opening week of C-USA play at Old Dominion and Charlotte postponed and will now open league play against the Lady Toppers. The Panthers have won four straight – two over Ave Maria after wins at Bethune-Cookman and against UNF.

The Panthers have played low-scoring games this season – FIU averages 64.3 points and allows an average of 57.8, according to statistics on the C-USA website. Ariel Colon and Kyla Nelson average 12.9 and 12.2 points per game, respectively, while Emerald Ekpiteta is right behind with 9.6 points and 7.7 rebounds a night.

“They’re an up-tempo team. They’re going to like getting up and down the floor and push it, so it’ll get back to defense – making sure our transition defense is strong, making sure we’re making it difficult for them to get to the basket, and then we’re going to have to have some of these kids get down and make some shots,” Collins said on the show. “I like where we are right now. We’re going to have to do it on the road and it’s a little bit different.”

WKU leads the all-time series with FIU 32-10.

WKU is scheduled to follow Saturday’s game with a road swing to the Lone Star State to face Rice and North Texas next week.

“It’s not often that you’re going to play this many young players, but we don’t use that as an excuse, we don’t use that as a crutch,” Collins said. “We talked at the beginning of the season about just showing up and playing and competing, and they don’t want to be referred to – they just want to play. Just play and win and compete and we’re trying to prove that we can compete with everybody in this conference.”

WESTERN KENTUCKY (9-4, 2-0) AT FIU (8-3, 0-0)

11 a.m. CT Saturday /Miami

Probable starters


Selma Kulo, f, 6-4, so. (2.6 ppg, 2.2 rpg); Mya Meredith, g, 5-11, fr. (12.6 ppg, 4.5 rpg); Alexis Mead, g, 5-5, fr. (11.2 ppg, 3.7 rpg), Meral Abdelgawad, g, 5-11, sr. (19.4 ppg, 8.8 rpg); Macey Blevins, g, 5-10, fr. (8.1 ppg, 2.8 rpg).


Kyla Nelson, f, 5-11, gr. (12.2 ppg, 3.2 rpg); Emerald Ekpiteta, f, 5-11, gr. (9.6 ppg, 7.7 rpg); Maria Torres, f, 6-1, so. (3 ppg, 3.6 rpg); Ariel Colon, f, 5-10, gr. (12.9 ppg, 4.4 rpg); Raquel Ferrer-Bernad, g, 5-6, sr. (3 ppg, 1.6 rpg).






Greg Collins (58-42, fourth year; 58-42 overall), WKU; Jesyka Burks-Wiley (23-16, second year; 23-16 overall), FIU.

Series record

WKU leads the series 32-10 (FIU won the last meeting 82-79 on Feb. 27 in Miami).

Last time out

WKU won at home 64-50 against Louisiana Tech on Saturday; FIU won at home 93-53 against Ave Maria on Monday.{&end}

– Follow sports reporter Jared MacDonald on Twitter @JMacDonaldSport or visit