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Western Kentucky women’s basketball coach Greg Collins gives instructions to sophomore forward Selma Kulo on Dec. 30 during the Lady Tops’ 98-88 win over Southern Miss at E.A. Diddle Arena.

The Western Kentucky women’s basketball team kept rolling last weekend in Miami and will now take its perfect record in Conference USA play to The Lone Star State.

The Lady Toppers have started 3-0 in C-USA play, are on a five-game winning streak and have won nine of their last 10 games leading into Thursday’s 7 p.m. game against Rice at Tudor Fieldhouse in Houston.

“Confidence is high, but being tenacious and being persistent is probably even more important than confidence, because if the confidence is founded on playing perfectly, that’s not where we are, but the confidence really just comes from grit and really just on playing hard and playing through mistakes,” WKU coach Greg Collins said. “That’s the thing I’m really proud about this team.”

WKU (10-4 overall, 3-0 C-USA) had matched last season’s win total by the end of nonconference play, before its perfect start in league play that has featured wins over Southern Miss, Louisiana Tech and at Florida International. The Lady Toppers sit atop C-USA’s East Division with Marshall at 3-0, and the two are the only teams in the league that have played league games without a loss – Charlotte and Old Dominion have yet to start league play.

The Lady Toppers have done it with plenty of youth – Meral Abdelgawad leads the team and is in the top five in C-USA with 19.5 points and 8.4 rebounds per game, but she’s the only upperclassman on the team.

Mya Meredith is adding 13.2 points and 4.7 rebounds per game and is coming off her second straight C-USA Freshman of the Week nod. In the last five games, she’s averaged 18 points, 5.8 rebounds. 2.8 assists and 2.2 steals per game.

“That’s why we recruited her. She’s good. She can play,” Collins said. “I think it’s encouraging to see her find some consistency putting those numbers on the board. She’s always been capable of that. She was more than capable of that in high school – she did that as well.

“She’s just settling in right now and getting more and more comfortable. She’s understanding we need her to go score any time she can. She’s a very unselfish player, she’s a great teammate, so it’s good to see her get some of those recognitions.”

Alexis Mead and Macey Blevins – two other freshmen in the starting lineup – are adding 10.6 and eight points per game, respectively.

Rice (5-4, 0-1) has been one of the top C-USA teams in recent years but were picked eighth in this season’s preseason poll. The Owls are under the direction of first-year coach Lindsay Edmonds after Tina Langley left for Washington after having served as Rice’s coach for the six seasons prior.

The Owls have had trouble getting on the court recently, with Friday’s game at Middle Tennessee – which Rice fell to in last year’s C-USA championship before the Owls went on to win the WNIT – being its first contest after a 23-day layoff that included postponements, cancellations and holiday break. Rice hasn’t played at home in Tudor Fieldhouse since beating Texas A&M-Corpus Christi on Dec. 11.

Ashlee Austin leads Rice with 18.1 points and 7.5 rebounds per game, while Haylee Swayze adds 16 points a night. Katelyn Crosthwait and Malia Fisher each add over nine points per game, while the latter also leads the team with 9.5 rebounds per game.

“They’re still fundamentally sound. They still take good care of the ball. They’ve got players that can shoot from the perimeter,” Collins said. “They’re still the same personality of that team – different players, but the same type of personality.

“We’re getting used to playing there. We’ve played there a whole lot, and so this time we’re going to go down and we’re just going to do what we do and keep playing hard on defense to try to make up for some of our mistakes and we’ll see if we can grind it out in the end.”

Rice leads the all-time series 6-3, with all six wins coming in the last six meetings. Six of the nine meetings have come in Houston, with another played in the 2019 C-USA Tournament in Frisco, Texas.

The Lady Toppers are scheduled to follow Thursday’s game against the Owls with a trip to Denton, Texas, to face North Texas at The Super Pit.

WESTERN KENTUCKY (10-4, 3-0) AT RICE (5-4, 0-1)

7 p.m. CT Thursday /Houston

Probable starters

WESTERN KENTUCKY

Selma Kulo, f, 6-4, so. (2.6 ppg, 2.2 rpg); Mya Meredith, g, 5-11, fr. (13.2 ppg, 4.7 rpg); Alexis Mead, g, 5-5, fr. (10.6 ppg, 3.6 rpg), Meral Abdelgawad, g, 5-11, sr. (19.5 ppg, 8.4 rpg); Macey Blevins, g, 5-10, fr. (8 ppg, 2.8 rpg).

RICE

Destiny Jackson, g, 5-9, so. (7.6 ppg, 4.5 rpg); Katelyn Crosthwait, g, 5-10, so. (9.1 ppg, 2.7 rpg); Haylee Swayze, g, 5-11, jr. (11.7 ppg, 4 rpg); Malia Fisher, f, 6-2, fr. (8.9 ppg, 9 rpg); Ashlee Austin, f, 6-0, so. (17.1 ppg, 7.2 rpg).

Television

CUSAtv

Radio

ESPNKY 102.7 FM

Coaches

Greg Collins (59-42, fourth year; 59-42 overall), WKU; Lindsay Edmonds (5-4, first year; 5-4 overall), Rice.

Series record

Rice leads the series 6-3 (The Owls won the last meeting 77-74 on Feb. 13 in Houston).

Last time out

WKU won 63-51 at Florida International on Saturday; Rice lost 87-63 at Middle Tennessee on Friday.{&end}

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