Bowling Green, Ky. — Crystal Kelly scored 26 points and pulled down a career-high 17 rebounds, and Arnika Brown added a career-best 20 points and 10 boards to lead the Western Kentucky University women’s basketball team to an 81-73 win over Arkansas State in front of 3,427 fans at E.A. Diddle Arena on Saturday night.
The win was the 10th straight for the Lady Toppers as they improved to 16-5 overall and remained undefeated in Sun Belt Conference play at 9-0. Arkansas State fell to 12-10 and 7-4 in the league. It marks the first time the Lady Toppers have won 10 straight games since doing so in the midst of a 13-game win streak between Jan. 3 and Feb. 12, 2005.
“This team just continues to find a way to win,” said Lady Topper head coach Mary Taylor Cowles. “Crystal and Arnika were fun to watch on the boards tonight. If we continue to get that kind of effort, a lot of good things can still happen for this basketball team.”
The Lady Toppers took advantage of 23 offensive rebounds and a 47-35 rebounding advantage as they dropped in 23 second-chance points. Fifteen of those points came in the second half as WKU was able to finally pull away from the Lady Indians late in the contest.
After taking a one-point lead into intermission, the Lady Toppers scored the first five points of the second half to open up a 42-36 lead. The advantage was short-lived, however, as ASU fought back to tie the game three times, the last coming when a Ashley Anderson layup knotted the score at 49-49 with 13:16 remaining.
Despite shooting just 37.1 percent in the second half, the Lady Toppers were able to use a 9-0 run midway through the half to take their first double-digit lead of the game when a Brown layup made it 66-56 with 7:10 to go. After trading baskets, WKU stretched the lead to 14 points with just 1:15 to go when a Kenzie Rich layup made it a 78-64 game. The Lady Indians refused to go away as they took advantage of two Lady Topper turnovers, and scored seven points in a nine-second stretch to cut the Lady Topper lead to seven with just 26 seconds remaining. WKU was able to hold on, however, as Amy McNear connected on three free throws in the closing seconds to secure the eight-point victory.
After going scoreless for nearly three minutes to open the game, WKU got a spark from Kelly as she scored the first six Lady Topper points. In fact, Kelly and Brown combined for 18 points in the first 11 minutes as WKU opened up a 22-11 lead after a Brown layup. The duo would go on to lead WKU in scoring in the first half as Brown tossed in 12 points and Kelly added 11. Angie Criner provided much of the offense of Arkansas State off the bench, as she finished with 16 points in the first half — including five straight to cut the Lady Topper lead to 22-16 withy 8:01 remaining in the half.
The Lady Indians continued to chip away, and used a 9-0 run to tie the game at 27-27 after four straight points from Criner with 4:54 left before intermission. After a free throw from Rich put WKU up by one, Jazmine Taylor gave ASU its first lead since the opening minutes of the contests with a pair of free throws that made it a 29-28 game.
The game was tied two more times in the half, but after WKU took a 33-32 lead on a Kelly free throw, Criner and Brittany Hiles scored four unanswered for ASU to give it a three-point lead with just over a minute left in the period. WKU regrouped, however, getting a basket from Kelly and a layup by Rich with 10 seconds on the clock to take a 37-36 lead into intermission.
Criner would go on to score 13 more points for ASU in the second half, finishing with a game-high 29 points. Veronica Smith also added 10 points for ASU. Rich joined Kelly and Brown in double figures for the Lady Toppers as she scored 10 points — eight of which came in the opening 20 minutes.
The Lady Toppers will continue their three-game homestand on Wednesday (Jan. 30) when they look to extend their winning streak against Sun Belt Conference West Division leader UALR. Tipoff between the Lady Toppers and Trojans is set for 7 p.m. (CST).