Mobile, Ala. — The top-seeded Western Kentucky University women’s basketball team held #8 North Texas to just two points in the final 7:33, and closed the game on a 15-2 run to advance to the semifinals of the 2008 Sun Belt Conference Tournament with a 61-53 win in Saturday’s quarterfinal game at the Mitchell Center on the campus of the University of South Alabama.
The win moves the Lady Toppers in to Monday’s first semifinal game, where they will meet either Arkansas State or South Alabama at 12:30 p.m. (CDT).
“We had some players step up and make big plays in the second half, but more than anything this team really showed their resilience and focus today,” said Lady Topper head coach Mary Taylor Cowles. “I’m very proud of this basketball team. When we got down in the second half, our leadership really stepped forward and we dug in our heels and found a way to get it done.“
After being tied at halftime, WKU (24-7) saw the Mean Green (14-18) use a 10-2 run to open up a 49-41 lead on a Yari Escalera three with just over nine minutes remaining. Kenzie Rich answered with a three on the next possession for the Lady Toppers – their only trey of the contest — to stop the bleeding. Crystal Kelly — who played the final 10 minutes of the game with four fouls — connected on four consecutive free throws around an Erica Howard layup with pull WKU back within three with seven minutes remaining.
That basket by Howard would be the last made shot from the field for UNT as it missed its last six shots of the final. In fact, the Mean Green went nearly seven minutes without scoring as their final two points came on a pair of Amber Jackson free throws with 43 seconds remaining. WKU, on the other hand, shot 42.1 percent from the field in the second half and finally regained the lead when Dominique Duck knocked down a pair of free throws with 3:52 remaining. The Lady Toppers never trailed after that point as Duck followed with another basket, and Amy McNear dropped in a jumper to stretch the lead to 56-51 with 2:20 to go.
Everything came at the free throw line down the stretch as WKU connected on 5-of-6 down the stretch to extend the lead to eight at the final buzzer. The Lady Toppers were solid from the line all day, going 22-for-25.
It was a different story in the first half as WKU saw North Texas jump out to an early lead and remain in front for the first 15 minutes. UNT pulled out to a 10-point lead midway through the period when another Escalera three made it a 20-10 contest. The Lady Toppers bounced back with a 14-0 run, however, as they opened up their first lead of the game at 24-20 on a Kelly layup with 5:19 left before intermission. The game would be tied three more times in the period, with Escalera knocking down another trey with 40 seconds remaining to knot the score at 29-29 heading into intermission.
WKU limited North Texas to just 30.8 percent shooting in the second half, and forced six of the Mean Green’s 16 turnovers in the final 20 minutes as they came back for the victory.
Despite being in foul trouble for much of the game, Kelly notched her 18th double-double of the season with a game-high 18 points and 14 rebounds. She was one of three Lady Toppers in double figures as Duck tossed in 15 points and Arnika Brown finished with 10 points and nine rebounds in her first start of the season. Howard paced the Mean Green with 15 points, while Escalera and Jo Hall finished with 11 and 10 points, respectively.