When the Western Kentucky women’s basketball team arrived in Frisco, Texas, on Monday, it didn’t know exactly who its first game in the Conference USA Tournament would be against.

The Lady Toppers earned the No. 3 seed and a first-round bye and knew they would be up against either North Texas or Charlotte. WKU lost to North Texas to open the conference slate and beat Charlotte twice, including last Thursday, 71-60, to clinch their tournament seed.

WKU focused on preparing for both for Thursday’s 2 p.m. quarterfinal game at The Star, but now center their attention on Charlotte, after the 49ers beat the Mean Green 71-67 Wednesday afternoon in the opening round.

“It would be more difficult if we hadn’t played those two teams before, but having played them, we have some familiarity with both of the teams and of course Charlotte we just played two games ago,” WKU coach Greg Collins said after Tuesday’s practice. “ ... All we control is making sure we’re ready for whoever it is.”

The Lady Toppers (22-7) held off a Charlotte (21-9) rally on the road Jan. 18 to bring a 60-56 victory back to Bowling Green. WKU added a second victory over the 49ers on Thursday, 71-60, to bounce back from a 108-103 double-overtime loss at Middle Tennessee, which snapped a 10-game winning streak. The team’s focus during its run of success started with defense and rebounding, which was a major point of emphasis at the team’s practices this week.

“Just focusing on us and being the best that we can be,” WKU senior point guard Whitney Creech said. “ ... We’re working on our defense and putting in some offenses, so we’re ready to go.”

In addition to the experience WKU brings in against Charlotte, it also has experience playing – and winning – at the C-USA Tournament. The Lady Toppers won back-to-back titles in 2017 and 2018, before falling to Rice in the semifinals last year to end the opportunity for a three-peat.

“I think that’s something a lot of people are overlooking. We’re an experienced team,” Creech said. “Me, Dee (Givens), Sherry (Porter), Raneem (Elgedawy) – (Alexis Brewer) won one in the Big 12 – we’ve all cut down the nets and won championships. We’re very experienced and we’re going to use that to our advantage.”

The last few games – including the Charlotte contest – provided tests for the Lady Tops. After losing at Middle Tennessee, WKU followed with back-to-back wins to end the regular season in games where they trailed at halftime. Collins points to the experience from that to help throughout the remainder of the week in the tournament for a conference he says is the best it’s ever been.

“I think it’s shown throughout the season just with poise in those pressure situations, late-game decisions, that we’ve taken care of the ball and we’ve made good decisions,” he said. “We haven’t always made the shot to win the game, we let some games get into overtime – sometimes we’ve won in overtime, a couple we haven’t – but I think that experience shows well and I like the idea that we’re going to have four, five kids that have been on this court and done this.

“We just have to make sure we’re shooting the ball well, taking care of the ball, playing our best defense and boxing out, mainly.”

WKU outrebounded Charlotte 40-33 in the first meeting, but Charlotte had a 38-30 advantage on the boards in Bowling Green. Raneem Elgedawy and Meral Abdelgawad had 14 points each for WKU in Charlotte, N.C., and the two finished in double figures last week, as did Alexis Brewer. Elgedawy had 29 points and 16 rebounds in the second win over the 49ers.

Octavia Jett-Wilson led Charlotte on Jan. 18 with 17 points and Jada McMillian had 14. Christian Hithe had 11 points and Jazmin Harris had 10 last week.

WKU owns a 20-5 record against Charlotte and has won five straight games in the series. The winner will face the winner of the 1:30 p.m. game between Old Dominion and UTEP in the semifinals Friday at 8:30 p.m.

The league announced Wednesday the general public will not be allowed to attend the rest of the men’s and women’s basketball tournaments in reaction to the global pandemic of the COVID-19 virus. It will implement a strict attendance procedure for the rest of the tournament with games being played with the official team party, student-athlete family, credentialed media, television and radio crews and essential personnel.

CHARLOTTE (21-9) AT WESTERN KENTUCKY (22-7)

2 p.m., Thursday, Frisco, Texas

Probable starters

CHARLOTTE

Jade Phillips, g, 5-11, r-sr. (14.7 ppg, 9.1 rpg); Mariah Linney, g, 5-9, jr. (9.5 ppg, 3.4 rpg); Octavia Jett-Wilson, g, 5-8, jr. (7.8 ppg, 2.9 rpg); Jada McMillian, g, 5-7, so. (6.7 ppg, 3.4 apg); Dara Pearson, f, 6-3, r-jr. (3.4 ppg, 3.9 rpg).

WESTERN KENTUCKY

Dee Givens, f, 6-1, r-sr. (16.2 ppg, 5.0 rpg); Raneem Elgedawy, f, 6-4, jr. (17.6 ppg, 11.0 rpg); Meral Abdelgawad, g, 5-11, so. (8.3 ppg, 3.7 rpg); Whitney Creech, g, 5-8, sr. (13.7 ppg, 4.7 apg); Alexis Brewer, g, 5-9, r-sr (7.0 ppg, 2.1 rpg).

Television

ESPN+

Radio

ESPN 102.7 FM and 1450 AM in BG

Coaches

Cara Consuegra (164-113 ninth season; 164-113 overall), Charlotte (42-22 second season; 42-22 overall), WKU.

Series record

WKU leads the series 20-5 (WKU won the last meeting 71-60 on March 5 at E.A. Diddle Arena).

Last time out

Charlotte won 71-67 against North Texas in the C-USA Tournament opening round Wednesday; WKU won 71-67 at home against Louisiana Tech on Saturday.{&end}

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

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