Bowling Green, Ky. — It was a storybook ending to the E.A. Diddle Arena career of Western Kentucky University senior Crystal Kelly on Saturday. On the same day when she got her jersey retired in her honor, the All-America forward matched that jersey number with 42 points to set a new single-game Lady Topper scoring record. That effort helped led WKU at an 82-48 win over Louisiana-Monroe, clinching at least a share of the Sun Belt Conference East Division title in and the top seed in the 2008 Sun Belt Conference Tournament for the Lady Toppers.
“We played so well today, and I think the emotion of senior day was a good thing for us,” said Kelly who now holds WKU’s game, season and career scoring marks. “I wasn’t really aware of the scoring record until it was over. We had an important game to win and it’s great to wrap up another regular-season championship.”
The record-breaking point actually came at the free-throw line as Kelly — who finished the day 12-for-14 at the stripe — knocked down the first of two free throws to give the Lady Toppers a 73-41 lead with 6:38 remaining. The 42 points broke the previous record of 41 set by Natalie Powers against Middle Tennessee on Feb. 1, 2001. It also tied the women‘s E.A. Diddle Arena scoring record held by Sonja Tate, who scored 42 points for Arkansas State on Feb. 21, 1993. Kelly joins Powers and Brenda Chapman as the only Lady Toppers to ever record a 40-point game. Chapman dropped in 40 against Murray State on Jan. 21, 1978.
“We’ve seen it for four years now. Crystal has the ability to dominate a basketball game,” said Lady Topper head coach Mary Taylor Cowles, who claimed her fifth Sun Belt East title in six years as a head coach. “She’s a very humble person, but I promise you Crystal wanted today to be a special as it could be. She put all of that focus to doing whatever it took to help her team win today.”
Hidden behind the individual efforts of Kelly was the job the Lady Topper defense did on the Warhawks (17-10, 10-6 SBC West) in the second half. WKU (21-7, 14-2 SBC East) limited ULM to just to just 2-for-32 shooting from the field (6.3%) in the final 20 minutes. The Lady Toppers, on the other hand, were able to shot 48 percent in that same period and 54.4 percent for the game.
WKU never trailed in the contest, and led by as many as 35 points late in the game.
“I’m really proud of our young ladies, as a whole, for the way they came out so focused and ready to play today,” added Cowles. “The came out with a great amount of intensity, and really put it together for 40 minutes tonight.”
The first half of the game also belonged to Kelly as she dropped in 26 points on 10-for-13 shooting from the field and a perfect 8-for-8 from the free throw line in the period. In fact, Kelly scored WKU‘s first six points of the game and 13 of its first 17 as the Lady Toppers. They were able to quickly open up a 19-4 lead when an Arnika Brown’s layup made it 19-4 just five minutes into the game.
The Lady Toppers shot 59.4 percent in the first half, but traded baskets with ULM for a four-minute stretch in the half before Kelly scored seven straight to give them a 39-19 lead with 6:54 remaining. In fact, Kelly scored 11 points in a four-minute stretch late in the half before going to the bench with her second foul.
Hope Brown stretched the lead out to 23 points when a layup made it 49-26 with 2:42 remaining, but Regena Jackson scored five straight in the final minute for ULM to cut the lead to 49-31 at intermission. WKU would outscore the Warhawks 33-17 in the second half as it stretched its lead to 34 points at the final buzzer.
Kelly added 17 rebounds to go along with her 42 points, and was one of three Lady Toppers to finish the game in double figures. Dominique Duck tossed in 14 points and pulled down six boards, while Arnika Brown posted 12 points and nine rebounds off the bench.
WKU will hit the road for its final two games of the regular season beginning Wednesday afternoon with a 4:15 p.m. (CST) game at Florida International. The Lady Toppers will wrap up the regular season at Florida Atlantic next Saturday.