Bowling Green, Ky. — The Western Kentucky University women’s basketball team played #12 Duke down to the final minute before falling 59-56 to the Blue Devils Friday night in front of 3,148 fans at E.A. Diddle Arena.
The loss dropped WKU to 3-2 on the young season, while Duke improved to 4-1.
"I was really proud of our girls for the effort they put forth tonight, especially in the second half," said Lady Topper head coach Mary Taylor Cowles. "A loss like this is disappointing, but we got an opportunity to see what our basketball team is all about. We let an opportunity slip away, but we’ve got to be committed to learning from this and carry it over the next time we step out on the court."
WKU trailed by as many as eight in the second half, but used a 10-2 run to pull within two when a Hope Brown three made it 43-41 with 10:43 remaining in the contest. After the Blue Devils went back up by five, Kenzie Rich single-handedly brought the Lady Toppers back from the charity stripe as she knocked down five straight free throws — including all three after being fouled behind the arc — to tie the game at 48-48.
The Lady Toppers would get two more possessions with a chance to take the lead, but came up empty before Joy Cheek hit a layup to put Duke back in front by a pair. The Blue Devils again stretched their advantage to five with 4:31 remaining, but Rich knock down a three to again push WKU within a pair at 53-51 with 4:16 to play.
After an Abby Waner layup pushed the Duke lead to four, Amy McNear knocked down a three with the shot clock winding down to make it a 55-54 game with 3:06 left to go. Karima Christmas answered at the other end to again stretch the lead to three, but Arnika Brown hit a layup with just one minute remaining to pull the Lady Toppers back within a point.
WKU was able to force a turnover with 27 seconds to play, but a Arnika Brown jumper came up short with 10 seconds remaining. After Keturah Jackson knocked down a pair of free throws to make it a three-point game, Rich was unable to get a good look at a game-tying three as it fell short at the final buzzer.
Despite shooting just 30.7 percent and committing 19 first-half turnovers, the Lady Toppers were within striking distance of the Blue Devils for the entire first 20 minutes of play. In fact, the Lady Toppers held an early 5-2 lead, and never trailed by more than four points for the first 14 minutes of the contest. However, after Duke took a 6-5 lead, the Lady Toppers never regained the advantage — but tied the game up on three more occasions.
After a Dominique Duck layup tied the game at 13-13 with 8:05 on the clock, Duke used a 12-2 run to open up a 25-15 lead on a Chelsea Hopkins free throw with 1:22 left before halftime. In fact, WKU went without a field goal for over six minutes until a Jessica Magley layup cut the deficit to eight with 1:12 to go before intermission. After a pair of empty possessions on both ends, Hope Brown knocked down a three to make it a 25-20 game with nine seconds left. However, Hopkins drove the length of the court and hit a three from the top of the key as time expired — Duke’s only made three of the contest — to stretch the Blue Devil advantage to 28-20 at the break.
WKU shot just 35.1 percent from the field for the game, but held Duke to 38.1 percent shooting. The Lady Toppers also held a 41-40 advantage on the boards. Arnika Brown and Rich each scored a game-high 15 points to lead WKU, while Brown also finished with 13 rebounds for her fourth double-double of the year. Hope Brown also came up with eight points off the bench. Cheek paced the Blue Devils with 12 points, while Chante Black posted a double-double with 11 points and 10 boards.
The Lady Toppers hit the road to face Louisiana Tech at 2 p.m. (CST) on Sunday in Ruston, La.