BOWLING GREEN, Ky. (WBKO) --- Freshman Meral Abdelgawad had a breakout game with a career-best 26 points and led four Lady Toppers in double figures as WKU toppled the No. 1 Division II team in the nation, Union (Tenn.), 77-65 inside E.A. Diddle Arena on Saturday evening to close its non-conference slate.
WKU (6-8) got a near-perfect night from Abdelgawad, who finished 8-of-10 from the floor and 8-of-9 from the charity stripe to lead all scorers. Dee Givens and Raneem Elgedawy each had 13 points to extend their double-digit scoring streaks, and Alexis Brewer rounded out the quartet in double figures with 11 points.
The Lady Toppers posted a dominant 27-8 margin in points off turnovers, forcing the Lady Bulldogs into 21 giveaways on the night. WKU also shot 26-of-49 (53.1 percent) from the field, its sixth time this season shooting 50 percent or better from the floor in a game.
Union remains undefeated at 12-0 after Saturday’s game as the contest will be counted as an exhibition for the Lady Bulldogs. Kennedy Childers led the opposition with 18 points, while Morgan Martin (15) and Jada Perkins (12) joined her in double figures.
“I was proud of the win against a very good team, that team would win games against teams in our conference but they would not be one of the top teams in our conference. If we’re going to compete at that level, then we’ve got to do better on the defensive end and not have four turnovers from our posts. Meral [Abdelgawad] played really hard tonight but she still had seven turnovers,” Head Coach Greg Collins said. “We can’t have 11 turnovers from two positions. For us to get to play at that level, there’s certain things areas that we’ve got to improve on.”
No team could gain more than two points of separation until the closing seconds of the first quarter. Down one point, 11-10, with just over two minutes left in the frame, WKU rallied to score the final five points of the quarter to take a 15-11 lead. Givens sparked the quick burst with a three-pointer from the top of the key, and Brewer’s floater in the lane finally created a bit of separation for the Lady Toppers.
Union whittled WKU’s lead back to one point with five quick points from Perkins and Jada Smith early in the second quarter, but a three-pointer from the left corner by Abdelgawad shut down the run and rebuilt a two-possession cushion for the Lady Toppers.
WKU did not allow the Lady Bulldogs any closer than two points from the remainder of the frame and carried a five-point edge, 34-29, into the halftime break following Abdelgawad’s layup in the waning seconds.
A balanced attack from Union out of the locker room helped the Lady Bulldogs to score five of the third quarter’s first seven points, bringing the two sides level at 36-36 with 7:52 on the clock. Tiffany Rechis keyed the stretch with a triple, and Perkins’ layup erased WKU’s lead for the first time since the opening quarter.
“We were a little sluggish starting off, I think that was probably from our break. Still, I was proud of the effort that Meral [Abdelgawad] brought, the energy that she brought in attacking the basket early, I think we needed that. You saw some of that rustiness shooting from the three-point line. That’s to credit Union and their defense. We need a little bit more consistent production from our inside play. We’re getting inconsistent and we’re turning the ball over,” Collins said. “We’re getting the ball inside and we’re not getting productive and that will cause the defense to collapse, that’ll open up that perimeter a little bit more. On the offensive end that’s something we’ve got to get better at. On the defensive end, we were struggling there a little bit there for a while.”
Despite the quick Union run, however, WKU fired back with eight unanswered points, including five from Givens, to build its largest lead of the night to that point at the 6:13 mark. The Lady Bulldogs again managed to cut the lead down to a single point two minutes later, but the Lady Toppers poured in eight straight points, this time with five from Brewer, to rebuild a nine-point edge.
WKU finally broke the game open with a 12-0 run midway through the final quarter, a stretch that saw four different Lady Toppers score and that left WKU with a 70-55 lead with just 4:42 to play. The Lady Toppers were able to coast to the final 77-65 scoreline over the closing minutes to claim their sixth victory of the year.
WKU will kick off C-USA play in its next time out, battling Charlotte inside Diddle Arena next Thursday evening at 6 p.m. With the exception of a 22-point WKU victory on Senior Night last season, the recent rivalry between the Lady Toppers and 49ers has been hotly contested, with five of the eight meetings since 2014-15 being decided by single digits and two by a single possession.