Lady Toppers defeat Louisiana Tech 71-67

Western Kentucky guard Meral Abdelgawad (left) steals the ball from Louisiana Tech forward Brianna Harris during WKU’s 71-67 win last season at E.A. Diddle Arena.

After a long layoff, the Western Kentucky women’s basketball team will return to action this weekend.

The Lady Toppers, who haven’t played since a loss at Tennessee Tech on Dec. 20, will open Conference USA play with two games at Louisiana Tech. The first is scheduled for 6:30 p.m. Friday, and the second is set for 4 p.m. Saturday.

“You kind of get in a rhythm when you start playing in a season, but this season has not had any rhythm to it at all,” WKU coach Greg Collins said. “I think the best rhythm we’ve had is consistently having hard practices, good practices, so that’s the positive.

“ ... It’s a legitimate concern to make sure that we’re ready to go. We’ve had good practices, we’ve done scrimmages in practice to try to re-create that simulation, but it’s not the same as playing games, so that part of it – and especially with a young team – that part of it is still unknown.”

WKU (1-5) picked up its only win Dec. 16 against Bellarmine, and followed with losses to Mercer and at Tennessee Tech. The Lady Toppers were originally scheduled to host Samford on Dec. 21 – the Tennessee Tech game was a late addition after that postponement – and were scheduled to open C-USA play with two games against Charlotte last weekend, but that series was put on hold due to COVID-19 issues within the 49ers’ program.

Now, the Lady Toppers will travel to Ruston, La., to take on a 6-2 Louisiana Tech team. The Lady Techsters are coming off a split series at Marshall. Louisiana Tech won Friday’s game in overtime 61-51, and lost the rematch 61-57 Saturday.

Louisiana Tech’s offense is led by 5-foot-6 junior guard Keiunna Walker, who is averaging 17 points per game, which ranks seventh in C-USA. Anna Larr Roberson is also averaging double figures at 11.3 points per game, and is bringing down 7.0 rebounds per contest – second on the team to Amber Dixon’s 7.9. Raizel Guinto, Brianna Harris and Dixon all average at least 8.4 points per game.

WKU picked up two wins over the Lady Techsters last season, and in the regular-season finale Guinto led the team with 20 points, including six made 3-pointers. Dixon is the leading returning scorer from the first meeting last season, coming away with 17 points. The Lady Toppers have won nine straight games in the series, but the Lady Techsters have a 26-22 edge all-time.

Louisiana Tech ranks only 10th in C-USA in scoring at 68.5 points per game, however, and defense is where it shines. The Lady Techsters’ 60.8 points allowed per game ranks second in C-USA behind Rice. Louisiana Tech has the top turnover margin in the league and the top defensive rebounding percentage.

“They’re very active, very aggressive on the ball. They do a great job of pressuring the passes,” Collins said. “That’s what we’ve been working on the most – is making sure we take care of the ball. The easy pass is the most important to me right now. I don’t need to see the great pass, we just need to see how many times we can complete an easy pass to get a good shot.

“That’s going to present the biggest problem for us with LA Tech, because even their defensive pressure bothered us last year and we had Whit Creech on the floor, and Whit Creech never turns the ball over.”

WKU has struggled scoring with a young team through six games this season, and its 57.2 points per game ranks 13th of C-USA’s 14 teams. WKU is 12th in field goal percentage, 11th in 3-point percentage, 14th in rebounding margin and 13th in turnover margin. The Lady Toppers are turning the ball over 21.7 times per game – the highest average in the league.

“You know what we’ve been working on – taking care of that ball, trying to make sure we don’t have 22 turnovers,” Collins said. “They’re shooting the ball well in practice. They’re all exceeding and doing well in all of our shooting drills and our goals that we have. Really, the thing we’re working on the most is making sure we move the ball and get the ball in the best shooters’ hands and get good shots, and not turn it over from the time we have it to the time they get it.”

Fatou Pouye led WKU in scoring through nonconference play at 12 points per game, and Ally Collett (10.8 points per game) and Meral Abdelgawad (10.2) are also averaging double figure scoring. Abdelgawad leads the team with 8.7 rebounds per game.

Collins said All-Conference forward Raneem Elgedawy has returned to campus from her home in Egypt and is going through protocols to return.

“Right now there’s no real change in the fact that she’s got to go through all the steps and we’re going to make sure everything health-wise is OK so that she can play,” he said.

WKU is scheduled to follow this weekend’s meetings in Ruston with a game at Marshall on Jan. 14, followed by a second game with the rival in Bowling Green on Jan. 17.

WESTERN KENTUCKY (1-5, 0-0) AT LOUISIANA TECH (6-2, 1-1)

6:30 p.m., Friday/4 p.m. Saturday, Ruston, La.

Probable starters

WESTERN KENTUCKY

Myriah Haywood, g, 5-11, r-so. (8.7 ppg, 3.7 rpg); Fatou Pouye, f, 6-0, sr. (12.0 ppg, 5.2 rpg); Meral Abdelgawad, g, 5-11, jr. (10.2 ppg, 8.7 rpg); Ally Collett, g, 5-7, fr. (10.8 ppg, 2.3 rpg); Hope Sivori, g, 5-5, fr. (6.7 ppg, 4.7 apg).

LOUISIANA TECH

Raizel Guinto, g, 5-5, sr. (9.5 ppg, 2.7 apg); Keiunna Walker, g, 5-6, jr. (17.0 ppg, 3.4 rpg); Amber Dixon, g, 5-10, sr. (8.4 ppg, 7.9 rpg); Lotte Sant, g, 6-1, so. (2.9 ppg, 2.1 rpg); Anna Larr Roberson, f, 6-3, so. (11.3 ppg, 7.0 rpg).

Television

ESPN+ Friday/CUSA.TV Saturday

Radio

ESPN 102.7 FM in BG

Coaches

Greg Collins (43-27, third season; 43-27 overall), WKU; Brooke Stoehr (72-59, fifth season; 143-117 overall), Louisiana Tech.

Series record

Louisiana Tech leads the series 26-22 (WKU won the last meeting 71-67 on March 7 at E.A. Diddle Arena).

Last time out

WKU lost 73-59 at Tennessee Tech on Dec. 20; Louisiana Tech lost 61-57 at Marshall on Saturday.{&end}

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

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