WBB: Rice 68-46 over WKU

Western Kentucky forward Dee Givens (right) drives against Rice guard Sydne Wiggins on Thursday during Rice’s 68-46 win at E.A. Diddle Arena.

As much as Greg Collins boasts Western Kentucky’s overall team play as its strength, it’s clear the Lady Toppers always need one player to contribute points to give them a chance.

Dee Givens’ scoring absence was obvious Thursday night in WKU’s 68-46 loss to Conference USA-leading Rice at E.A. Diddle Arena. WKU’s leading scorer was held to just two points as the team turned out a season-low point total.

Givens and the Lady Toppers (14-10 overall, 8-2 C-USA) have a quick turnaround to erase that miserable output when WKU hosts North Texas (11-11, 4-6) on Saturday at 2 p.m. (CUSA.tv, 102.7 FM).

“For us to beat a good team, we need Dee Givens to score,” Collins said. “We can win other ballgames with other players scoring, but for us to beat someone really good, Dee is going to have to put points on the board for us.”

Givens’ only points came on a layup in the first quarter before her night got off balance. Her lone score came in a rocky first quarter WKU never recovered from, falling behind 21-5. The 6-foot-1 redshirt junior picked up a technical foul with three seconds left in the quarter and played the rest of the night with visible frustration guarding leading C-USA Player of the Year candidate Erica Ogwumike.

Givens finished the night 1-for-8 from the field for her first single-digit scoring effort of the season.

“She can’t let that get her frustrated and I know she wanted to put the ball in the hole for us,” Collins said. “Overall, there’s things we can take from this and get better.”

Thursday’s performance was unusual considering the force Givens has become in the league. She entered the Rice game second in the league in scoring at 19.1 points per game and was recently noted as the only player in Division I – men’s or women’s – to shoot 45 percent from the floor, 45 percent from 3-point range and 85 percent from the free-throw line.

Before Thursday, the Lexington native had back-to-back 20-point games in a Texas road swing – 25 points at UTSA and 26 points at UTEP.

While her scoring dropped off, Givens still performed defensively with four steals, which gives her 13 in the last three games.

Givens also faced the task of guarding Ogwumike, who finished 8-of-14 from the field for 22 points. While Givens struggled, Whitney Creech stepped up to match her season-high of 12 points in the loss.

“I think Dee is a two-way player,” Creech said. “If she’s not scoring the ball she can do a lot of other things for this team. Like coach Collins says when we play a really tough team, we need Dee to help us out. We also have to help Dee out and relieve that pressure off her and score the ball. If others are aggressive and scoring it opens things up for us.”

The Owls’ victory at Diddle Arena moved them to 10-0 in the league and atop the C-USA standings. Now with two conference losses, WKU sits third in C-USA behind Middle Tennessee and Rice. Marshall is also 8-2 in conference play, but WKU won the head-to-head matchup over the Thundering Herd.

North Texas enters Saturday having lost six of its last seven games after a 67-55 defeat at Marshall on Thursday.

Terriell Bradley leads the Mean Green with 17.1 points per game.

North Texas (11-11, 4-6) at Western Kentucky (14-10, 8-2)

2 p.m., Saturday, E.A. Diddle Arena

Probable starters

Western Kentucky – Sherry Porter, g, 5-7, so. (6.4 ppg, 2.2 rpg); Whitney Creech, g, 5-8, jr. (4.7 ppg, 3.0 apg); Meral Abdelgawad, g, 5-11, fr. (9.9 ppg, 2.8 rpg); Dee Givens, f, 6-1, r-jr. (18.4 ppg, 4.3 rpg); Raneem Elgedawy, f, 6-4, so. (16.5 ppg, 7.8 rpg)

North Texas – Madi Townley, f, 6-0, r-so. (5.6 ppg, 6.8 rpg); Anisha George, f, 6-2, jr. (11.0 ppg, 8.0 rpg); Grace Goodhart, g, 5-9, sr. (6.5 ppg, 1.8 rpg); Brittany Smith, g, 5-6, sr. (2.1 ppg, 2.3 rpg); Terriell Bradley, g, 5-10, r-sr. (17.1 ppg, 4.2 rpg)

Online – CUSA.tv

Radio ESPN 102.7 FM or 1450 AM

Coaches Greg Collins (14-10 first season), Western Kentucky; Jalie Mitchell (51-63 fourth season, 51-63 overall) North Texas.

Series Western Kentucky leads the series 19-6 (WKU won the last meeting 77-61 in the C-USA Tournament on March 9).

Last time out

Western Kentucky lost 68-46 to Rice on Thursday; North Texas lost 67-55 at Marshall on Thursday.{&end}

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Covering high school sports and Western Kentucky women's basketball for the Bowling Green Daily News.

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