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Western Kentucky junior forward Raneem Elgedawy shoots a layup during WKU's 74-63 win against Oklahoma on Wednesday, Dec. 4, 2019, at E. A. Diddle Arena. (Grace Ramey/photo@bgdailynews.com)

A trip to Texas didn’t come with the results the Western Kentucky women’s basketball team was hoping for.

The Lady Tops dropped games at North Texas and Rice to fall to 0-2 in Conference USA, and will look for their first win in conference play Thursday when they return to E.A. Diddle Arena for the first time since Dec. 4 to take on UAB in an 11 a.m. Education Day game.

WKU (8-5 overall, 0-2 C-USA) had never lost a C-USA opener until Thursday’s 61-54 loss to North Texas at The Super Pit. The Lady Toppers cut a 19-point deficit to four late, but couldn’t complete the comeback. The Mean Green won the rebounding battle 53-39 and went 10-of-21 from beyond the arc to WKU’s 2-of-19.

Lady Topper coach Greg Collins was happier with his team’s defensive rebounding Saturday in the loss to Rice, but not with his team’s transition defense. The second-year head coach was also unhappy with the officiating in a game where the Owls had 22 more free-throw attempts than WKU, including 21 free-throw attempts in the fourth quarter.

Despite the 0-2 start in conference play, Collins believes his bunch is still one that will be competing for a C-USA title. The Lady Toppers are one of three teams in C-USA without a conference win, joining Louisiana Tech and FIU, but only three – UTEP, Rice and Southern Miss – remain unbeaten in conference play through the first week.

“The conference, right now, is better than it’s ever been since we’ve been in here,” Collins said after the loss to Rice on the ESPN 102.7 FM and 1450 AM broadcast. “We’ve got a legitimate five or maybe six teams that could contend for this conference championship, and we’ve not had that since we’ve been in the conference.

“... We’re one of those. We’re in that mix. We’ve got to be more consistent, we’ve gotten a little bit tougher, we’ve got to be a little cleaner with how we play and a little bit fewer fouls and then we’ve just got to be tougher on the road to where we’ve got to recognize that when a game is being called a certain way, we’ve got to be a little bit more deliberate to how we get our shots and not expect referees to bail us out.”

UAB (9-5, 1-1) lost its conference opener to Charlotte 83-75 on Thursday and beat Old Dominion 76-65 on Saturday. The Blazers boast the best scoring offense in C-USA at 78.9 points per game and the Lady Toppers are second at 73 points per game. The two are among the bottom four teams in the conference in points allowed per game.

Collins believes the slate of nonconference games his team endured this season helped prepare for the style UAB will bring to Bowling Green. The Blazers are the top 3-point shooting team in C-USA, knocking down 41.3 percent of the shots they take from beyond the arc, and WKU is 13th of 14 teams in 3-point percentage defense. Rachel Childress, a 5-foot-10 senior guard, leads C-USA with 17.9 points per game and is second in 3-point shooting at 46.2 percent (55-of-119). Senior teammate Miyah Barnes is C-USA’s top 3-point shooter at 47.1 percent (24-of-51) and adds 13.1 points per game. Katelynn Thomas (12.1 points per game) and Trista Magee (10.1) also average double figure scoring.

“We’ve been working on getting ready for their style of play with a bunch of our games that we’ve played already – Kentucky Wesleyan, Belmont and Saint Mary’s – so we’ve played a lot of these teams and like to spread it out and put five 3-point shooters on the floor,” Collins said after Sunday’s game. “We’ll have to continue to do that and get out and guard them and make that difficult and make them get 2s and not 3s.”

Despite being second in C-USA in scoring at 73 points per game, the Lady Toppers haven’t put up the same numbers recently as they did early in the season. WKU’s 65 points Saturday were the most it had scored in its current three-game losing streak, where it’s averaged just 56.3.

Raneem Elgedawy (17.2 points per game), Whitney Creech (16.1) and Dee Givens (15.60 are still among the top seven scorers in the conference entering Thursday’s slate of games.

UAB won last year’s meeting 70-63 after falling to WKU in the C-USA title game the season before. Alexis Brewer led WKU with 21 points in the last meeting and Elgedawy and Givens added 17 and 14 points, respectively. Barnes led three UAB scorers in double figures with 19 points and Childress had 14 in a game the Blazers knocked down 10 3-pointers.

WKU played its last five games on the road following the Dec. 4 win over Oklahoma. The Lady Toppers will stay home to face Middle Tennessee on Saturday before returning to the road for three straight games.

UAB (9-5, 1-1) AT WESTERN KENTUCKY (8-5, 0-2)

11 a.m., Thursday, E.A. Diddle Arena

Probable starters

UAB

Rachel Childress, g, 5-10, sr. (17.9 ppg, 2.6 rpg); Miyah Barnes, g, 5-5, sr. (13.1 ppg, 3.1 rpg); Trista Magee, g, 6-1, r-sr. (10.1 ppg, 3.8 rpg); Angela Vendrell, g, 6-2, sr. (5.4 ppg, 8.5 rpg); Katelynn Thomas, f, 6-0, sr. (12.1 ppg, 4.4 rpg).

WESTERN KENTUCKY

Dee Givens, f, 6-1, r-sr. (15.6 ppg, 5.5 rpg); Raneem Elgedawy, f, 6-4, jr. (17.2 ppg, 10.1 rpg); Meral Abdelgawad, g, 5-11, so. (6.6 ppg, 2.9 rpg); Whitney Creech, g, 5-8, sr. (16.1 ppg, 4.5 apg); Sherry Porter, g, 5-7, jr (8.2 ppg, 2.8 rpg).

Television

C-USA TV

Radio

ESPN 102.7 FM and 1450 AM in BG

Coaches

Greg Collins (28-20 second season; 28-20 overall) WKU; Randy Norton (126-78 seventh season; 126-78 overall) UAB.

Series record

WKU leads the series 15-9 (UAB won the last meeting 70-63 on Feb. 16 in Birmingham).

Last time out

WKU lost 73-65 at Rice on Saturday; UAB won 76-65 at home against Old Dominion on Saturday.{&end}

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

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