Mobile, Ala. — The Western Kentucky University women’s basketball team overcame a 15-point deficit in the first half, and used a 62.9 percent shooting performance in the final 20 minutes to remain undefeated in Sun Belt Conference play with a 75-63 win over South Alabama Sunday afternoon at the Mitchell Center.
The win was the fourth straight for the Lady Toppers as they improved to 10-5 and a perfect 3-0 in Sun Belt Conference play. USA fell to 11-4 and 2-2 in the league.
Four Lady Toppers finished the game in double figures, led by Crystal Kelly who posted a game-high 17 points and 13 rebounds. Arnika Brown came off the bench to toss in 15 points and pull down nine boards, while Dominique Duck and Kenzie Rich threw in 14 and 12 points, respectively.
“We’re excited to get this victory, but we didn’t bring the defensive intensity in the first half,” said Lady Topper head coach Mary Taylor Cowles. “Offensively I think we are really starting to gel. The work on the offensive end in the first half really kept us in the game, and I thought we did a much better job on both ends of the floor in the second half.”
After falling behind by as many as 15 in the first half, the Lady Toppers used a late run to cut the margin to 30-24 at intermission. WKU carried that momentum over into the second half as Brown and Duck scored the first four points to pull the Lady Toppers back within two. However, USA responded with a 9-2 run to pull back out to a 39-32 lead on a four-point play by Karina Sproals with 17:12 to go in the game.
Duck answered with four straight points for WKU as she sparked a 13-4 Lady Topper run that pulled the Lady Toppers even when two straight baskets from Brown evened things up at 43-43 with 11:56 to go. After a couple of empty possessions, Kelly knocked down a layup with 11 minutes remaining to move the Lady Toppers back in front for the first time since the 7:55 mark of the first half.
After a jumper by Jeanette Tucker again evened the score, Rich scored five straight to spark an 11-4 WKU run that made it a 56-48 game after a pair of Amy McNear buckets with 7:21 remaining. USA would get as close as four points down the stretch, but the Lady Toppers closed the game on a 12-4 run over the final four minutes as their largest lead of the game was also the final margin at 12 points.
Neither team shot the ball well out of the gate as South Alabama missed its first six shots, while WKU connected on just one of six from the field. The Lady Toppers were able to open up an early 7-0, but the Lady Jaguars found the shooting eye and battled back to tie the game at 11-11 on a Brittney Rutledge jumper with 9:12 left in the half.
In fact, after the seven-point lead to open the game, the Lady Toppers saw South Alabama go on a 25-3 run over an 11-minute stretch in the half to storm out to 29-14 lead on back-to-back threes from Jessica Starling and Amanda Leonard with 3:37 to go. Leonard would go on to lead the Lady Jags in scoring with 12 points, while Patriece Brunner added 10.
A Duck layup broke the drought for WKU as it closed the half on a 10-1 run, getting threes from Dalila Thomas and Hope Brown in the final minute to cut the South Alabama lead to 30-24 at intermission.
WKU enjoyed an 18-point advantage in the second half of the game as it scored 51 points in the period on the heels of a 57-point effort in the second half against Middle Tennessee Thursday night. The Lady Toppers also committed a season-low eight turnovers in the contest.
The Lady Toppers will head back out on the road Thursday night when they travel to Louisiana-Monroe for a 5:30 p.m. (CST) game with the Warhawks. That will be the front end of a doubleheader as the Hilltopper basketball team will take on ULM around 7:30 p.m. Both games will be televised live on the Hilltopper Sports Satellite Network and Fox College Sports Atlantic.