Mobile, Ala. — Dominique Duck saved her career day for when it really counted as she dropped in a career-best 24 points and pulled down eight rebounds to move the Western Kentucky University women’s basketball team into the championship game of the Sun Belt Conference Tournament with a 70-56 win over Arkansas State on Monday afternoon.
It will mark the 18th time the Lady Toppers (25-7) have played for a conference tournament championship, as they go after their ninth championship against either UALR or Middle Tennessee at 3 p.m. (CDT) on Tuesday.
“We are exactly where we came here to get, and I’m just very proud of our young ladies,” said Lady Topper head coach Mary Taylor Cowles, who will coach in the title game for the fourth time in her six years at the helm. “All year we’ve been very comfortable with the way this team has so many players that can step forward, and that was evident again today.”
Sun Belt Player of the Year Crystal Kelly failed to score in double figures for just the third time this year as she finished with eight points before fouling out. However, Duck — along with Arnika Brown and Kenzie Rich stepped up their offensive production to lift WKU to the 14-point victory. Brown scored 13 of her 17 points in the first half, while Rich again was big from the line knocking down 6 of 7 down the stretch to also finish with 17 points. She also accounted for three of WKU’s four makes from behind the arc.
The Lady Toppers hit six of their first seven shots out of the gate, but Sherina Scott was all the offense Arkansas State needed in the first few minutes as she scored the Lady Indians’ first nine points. ASU’s only lead of the half came at 8-7 in the opening minutes of the contest, but the Lady Toppers were able to quickly regain the lead thanks to the production offensively of Dominique Duck and Arnika Brown — how posted 14 and 13 points, respectively, in the opening half.
WKU saw its first-half shooting percentage up near 70 percent midway through the period, and shooting 58.3 percent.
Brown gave WKU its first double-figure lead when her basket at the 8:34 mark made it a 28-18 game. The Lady Topper lead grew as high as 11 in the first half. The Lady Indians (20-12) would get as close as eight in the closing second on a jumper by Lyndsey Schlup, but Duck knocked down a baseline jumper as time expired to send the Lady Toppers to the locker room with a 38-28 lead.
The Lady Topper lead never dipped below eight in the second half, but it was not until late in the game that they were able to put the game out of reach. After ASU made it a 10-point game with 10:28 remaining, a 9-2 Lady Topper run pushed the lead to a game-high 19 points at 62-43 on a Rich three with 6:28 remaining.
ASU was again able to make a run, cutting its deficit down to 11, but the Lady Toppers knocked down eight of 10 from the line in the final four minutes to stretch the final margin to 14 points.
Scott finished the game with 16 points for ASU, while Angie Criner added 14 points off the bench.