Bowling Green, Ky. — "Survive and advance" is the motto in the postseason, and on Thursday night the Western Kentucky University women’s basketball team did just that as they held off a late charge by Mississippi State to pick up a 56-53 win over the Bulldogs at E.A. Diddle Arena in the third round of the 2007 Women’s National Invitation Tournament.
The win means the Lady Toppers (22-8) advance to the WNIT quarterfinals for the third time in four years, and will host Hofstra at 2 p.m. (CST) on Sunday (March 25).
“We found a way to get a victory, and that’s what you have to focus on this time of year,” said Lady Topper head coach Mary Taylor Cowles. “Mississippi State made a great run at us down the stretch, and that’s what I like about this team is their ability to pull together and stay composed in those situations.”
WKU led by double figures for a majority of the first half, but saw the Bulldogs (18-14) open the final 20 minutes on a 10-3 run to get within eight less than three minutes into the period. Despite shooting just 28.6 percent in the period, the Lady Toppers were able to keep the lead at no less than seven points for most of the half — getting the advantage back out to 13 when a Charlotte Marshall three made it 53-40 with 5:07 to play.
That would be the last field goal of the night for the Lady Toppers, however, as Mississippi State scored six unanswered and 10 of the next 12 to get within five with 1:46 remaining. After a pair of missed free throws by WKU, Tysheka Grimes knocked down a three with 1:07 remaining to cut the lead to 55-53.
Following a Lady Topper turnover on the next possession, Grimes got a look at another three with 11 seconds left, but the shot came off shot and Brianne Brown was able to secure the rebound for WKU. Dominique Duck was fouled with seven ticks left and sank one of two at the line to extend the lead to three points, and a Marneshia Richard three as time expired was off the mark as the Lady Toppers held on for the three-point win.
The Lady Toppers held Mississippi State to just 27 percent shooting in the first half. In fact, the Bulldogs connected on just three field goals in the first 12:10 of the half. After Tysheka Grimes knocked down a three in the first minute of the game, WKU kept Mississippi State off the board for the next 5:25 as Crystal Kelly scored six straight points to put WKU in front. After a Lauren Roberts basket made it 6-5, a pair of Brown free throws started a 14-0 Lady Topper run over the next eight minutes as they pulled out to a 20-5 lead on a Duck layup with 8:05 to play in the half.
The WKU lead stayed in double figures for the remainder of the half, getting as high as 15 on three occasions. MSU scored four straight points late in the half to get as close as 10, but the Lady Toppers closed on an 8-2 run — six of those points coming at the free throw line — to take a 33-18 lead into intermission.
Kelly led all scorers in the game with 15 points and also pulled down nine rebounds before fouling out with just over three minutes to play. Marshall tossed in 12 points, and Duck finished with 11 after begin held scoreless the last time out against Minnesota. Imesia Jackson led three Bulldogs in double figures with 12 points.