Bowling Green, Ky. — The outside shooting of Kenzie Rich and the inside presence of Crystal Kelly proved to be a lethal combination Saturday afternoon as the duo led the Western Kentucky University women’s basketball team to a 69-54 win over Denver at E.A. Diddle Arena.
The Lady Toppers improved to 11-0 in Sun Belt Conference play for the first time in school history, and won their 12th consecutive contest to improve to 18-5 overall. The Pioneers fell to 7-14 and 2-8 in the league.
“We knew that Denver would give us some different looks defensively tonight, and we’re just really proud of our young ladies and the way they responded,” said Lady Topper head coach Mary Taylor Cowles. “Crystal did a great job staying focused against a lot of double and triple teams, and Kenzie had the opportunity to get some looks from outside and she took advantage of it.”
Kenzie Rich was the story of the first half offensively for the Lady Toppers as she dropped in 17 of WKU’s 33 points in the period, connecting on five three pointers. In fact, Rich and Crystal Kelly combined to score the first 18 points of the game for the Lady Toppers — dropping in nine each — as Kelly gave them an 18-14 lead after a three-point play at the 12-minute mark.
Denver stayed close with some sharp shooting from long range as well, connecting on four three pointers of its own in the half. WKU was able to open up a double-digit lead with 2:11 remaining in the half when Rich’s final three of the period made it a 31-21 game, but Brooke Meyer scored five of the final seven points in the period for the Pioneers, including a layup a the buzzer, to cut the Lady Topper lead to 33-26 at intermission. Meyer finished the half with 12 points off the bench for DU, connecting on four of her five shot attempts, and going 2-for-3 from long range.
The second half belonged to Kelly, as she tossed in 21 of her game-high 30 points in the final 20 minutes. She was able to do most of her damage at the free-throw line, connecting on 15 of 17 attempts in the half. Kelly finished the game 18-for-20 at the stripe.
After WKU was able to open up a 12-point lead early in the period, the Pioneers got two straight threes from Abbey Leichliter, and another from Nnenna Akotaobi to cut the Lady Topper lead to 43-38 with 12:41 to play. DU got within five on two other occasions in the next couple minutes, but a Kelly free throw at the 10:43 mark sparked an 18-4 run over the next seven minutes as WKU stretched its lead out to 19 points with 3:29 to go.
Despite shooting just 33.3 percent from the field in the second half and 37.5 percent for the game, the Lady Toppers were able to pull thanks to 24 points off of 21 Pioneer turnovers. WKU, on the other hand, committed just 11 miscues in the game, and collected 22 second-chance points in the contest.
Kelly’s scoring effort marked the fifth time this season that she has dropped in at least 30 points in a game. She also tied the WKU career field goals record going 6-for-8 from the floor. Rich finished the game with 22 points — one shy of her season high — thanks mostly to six three pointers. Kelly also pulled down a game-high nine rebound, while Rich added a career-best seven boards. Sara Benham paced the Pioneers with 14 points, while Alisha Godette and Meyer finished with 12 points each.
The Lady Toppers will head back out on the road Wednesday, when they travel to North Texas for a 7 p.m. (CST) contest with the Mean Green.