Lady Toppers Drop Sun Belt Opener 66-59 At South Alabama

By: Chris Glowacki, WKU Athletic Media Relations
By: Chris Glowacki, WKU Athletic Media Relations

Mobile, Ala. — South Alabama opened the second half with a 12-3 run — including a stretch of 11 unanswered — to build on a seven-point halftime lead and pick up a 66-59 win over the Western Kentucky University women’s basketball team Wednesday night at the Mitchell Center.

It was the first Sun Belt Conference contest for both teams as USA improved to 9-2 overall and 1-0 in the SBC East, while WKU dropped to 6-3 and 0-1 in the league.

"This is obviously not the way we wanted to start off our conference season, but it is also a chance for us to learn and continue to get better with a lot of basketball still ahead of us," said Lady Topper head coach Mary Taylor Cowles. "We were out of sync offensively all night, and were a step slow defensively. But you have to credit South Alabama, they played very, very well and deserved this win."

After Arnika Brown got a basket for WKU to open the second half, Brittney Rutledge hit a jumper to spark an 11-0 run that stretched the Jaguar advantage to 40-24 on a Jessica Starling three with 16:26 remaining. Trailing 41-25, the Lady Toppers attempted to mount a comeback, scoring eight unanswered to cut the deficit in half when a Kenzie Rich layup made it a 41-33 score with still 12:03 to play.

WKU could get no closer, however, as the Jaguars were able to stretch the lead out to 15 when a Karina Sproal layup made it a 52-37 game with 7:33 remaining. The Lady Toppers were able to cut the deficit to nine on four occasions, then got within seven when Kenzie Rich connected on a four-point play to make it a 62-55 game with 48 seconds left. However, it came too late as South Alabama ran out the clock for the seven-point victory.

Both teams came out shooting cold to open the game, with both clubs hovering around 20-percent from the field for most of the period. Neither team held more than a two-point lead for the first 14 minutes of the contest as there were six ties and three lead changes over that span. With the Lady Toppers holding a 14-12 lead on a Brown jumper with nine minutes on the clock, the Jaguars used a 9-2 run — capped off by back-to-back threes from Starling — to open up a 22-16 lead with just under four minutes remaining before intermission.

WKU was able to get back within three, but a Sproal three and a Rutledge layup pushed the South Alabama lead to 29-20 with under a minute on the clock. However, Teranie Thomas scored in the closing seconds to cut the Lady Topper deficit to 29-22 at halftime — the same seven-point margin that would stand at the end of the contest.

Brown finished the game with a career-high 28 points, and also pulled down a game-high 14 rebounds. Rich also finished in double figures with 13. Brown was one of three Lady Toppers to pull down double-digit rebounds as Dominique Duck and Thomas both finished with 10 boards. For the game, WKU held a 47-43 advantage on the glass.

Starling paced Jaguars with a career-high 25 points, while Ra’Shawna Sippio finished with 10 points and a team-high eight boards.

The Lady Toppers return home to host Ball State at 7 p.m. (CST) on Saturday at E.A. Diddle Arena.

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