Boca Raton, Fla. — The Western Kentucky University women’s basketball team saved their best for last as they closed out the 2007-08 regular season with their largest margin of victory of the year, picking up an 89-52 win over Florida Atlantic Saturday afternoon at FAU Arena.
The win brought an end to a championship regular-season for the Lady Toppers as they enter the Sun Belt Conference Tournament with a 23-7 overall record and the best record in the league at 16-2 in conference games. FAU fell to 6-21 overall and 2-16 in the Sun Belt.
“I’m so proud of these young ladies for how hard they have played closing out the regular season,” said Lady Topper head coach Mary Taylor Cowles. “We came down here with the mindset of getting better as a team and getting as much momentum as we could going into the conference tournament, and I really think we did that with this win today, as well as our victory at Florida International.”
The outcome was never in doubt as WKU scored the first 10 points of the game, and had opened up a 21-point lead midway through the first half when a jumper by Arnika Brown made it 30-9. The Lady Toppers shot 58.8 percent in the opening half, while holding the Owls to just 23 points and 26.7 percent shooting in the first 20 minutes. The WKU lead grew as high as 26 points in the opening period when Crystal Kelly — who scored 20 of her game-high 26 points in the first half — scored five straight points to move the Lady Toppers in front 37-11 with 5:12 to go before intermission. FAU was able to get as close as 21 in the final minutes, but baskets by Amy McNear and Kelly in the final minute pushed the lead back out to 48-23 at intermission.
FAU got no closer than 24 points in the second half, as the Lady Toppers saw their lead stay above 30 for most of the period. In fact, the lead grew as high as 39 late in the period. The WKU bench — which outscored the FAU reserves 36-17 for the game — accounted for 24 of WKU’s 41 points in the final 20 minutes.
Freshman point guard Amy McNear had one of her best performances of the season against the Owls, setting new career highs with 11 points and seven assists. Arnika Brown provided much of the spark off the bench for WKU, posting a double-double with 16 points and 13 rebounds. Whitney Ballinger also finished in double figures with 10 points in a reserve role — her highest point total since the second and third games of the season.
Kelly’s 26 points led all scorers as she finished 10-for-14 from the field and a perfect 6-for-6 at the free throw line in just 19 minutes of action. She also pulled down nine rebounds and collected four steals.
Brittany Bowe paced three Owls in double figures with 13 points, with Jamie Givens tossing in 12 and Breana Cox tossing in 10 off the bench.
The Lady Toppers will open Sun Belt Conference Tournament play next Saturday (March 8) at 12:45 p.m. (CST) in the first of four quarterfinal games at the Mitchell Center in Mobile, Ala. Top-seeded WKU will have to await its first tournament opponent as eight-seeded North Texas will host No. 9 New Orleans in a first-round tournament game Wednesday in Denton, Texas.