Redshirt junior Dee Givens scored a game-high 27 points to lead six Lady Toppers in double figures as WKU rode its fast-paced offensive attack past West Virginia State, 104-74, in exhibition action inside E.A. Diddle Arena on Thursday evening.
Givens, who finished 10-of-14 from the floor, scored 24 of her points in the first half alone and also added four rebounds and four steals in Head Coach Greg Collins’ debut at the helm of the program. Alexis Brewer (14), Meral Abdelgawad (12), Raneem Elgedawy (11), Jae’Lisa Allen (10) and Terri Smith (10) rounded out the WKU group in double figures on the night.
“Like Coach Collins said at Media Day, for this team it’s not just about one person or two people scoring all the time, it’s about the whole team,” Givens said of the team effort. “Every day we’re just looking for a team effort, sharing the ball, we don’t really care who gets the most points.”
As a team, WKU was very efficient from the floor, knocking down 60.6 percent (40-of-66) of its shots, including a 12-of-30 (40 percent) mark from three-point range. The Lady Toppers pressed the tempo for much of the contest, finishing the game with an average possession length of just 12 seconds.
With that speed, WKU held a big advantage in fast-break points, outscoring West Virginia State 32-13 in that category. The Lady Toppers also held a major advantage in points in the paint (50-20) and points off turnovers, scoring 36 points off 30 Yellow Jacket giveaways.
The win was WKU’s 35th exhibition victory in a row, and the Lady Toppers have now cracked the century mark in five of their last six exhibition tilts.
For West Virginia State, Amari Grace led the way with 20 points and was joined in double figures by Jordan Miller (19) and Chloe Cheresne (11).
After an early three-pointer from the Yellow Jackets, Givens responded with seven straight points, capped with a three-pointer off a feed from Brewer to put the Lady Toppers in front early. West Virginia State fired back to knot the game at 12-12, but WKU broke the game open with an 18-3 run on the strength of its fast-paced offense, with layups from Allen and Elgedawy wrapping up the run.
WKU’s lead hovered between 10 and 20 points for much of the second quarter before 10 unanswered points late in the frame, spurred by triples from Givens and Brewer, gave WKU a 55-33 lead over the Yellow Jackets. The Lady Toppers maintained their 20-point edge through the halftime break, carrying a 57-35 advantage into the locker room.
West Virginia State briefly trimmed the lead back to 21 points, 63-42, after a burst of four straight points midway through the third quarter, but again WKU’s hot three-point shooting stonewalled any threat of a comeback attempt as Givens and Brewer knocked down back-to-back shots from beyond the arc to fend off the Yellow Jackets’ run. Heading into the final quarter, WKU led West Virginia State, 82-55.
The advantage was cut to 24 points twice early in the fourth frame before a 9-0 run by the Lady Toppers put the game out of reach for good. Abdelgawad came alive with seven straight points to cap the stretch and give WKU a 93-60 lead, and the Lady Toppers would not relinquish that 30-point edge for the remainder of the contest, cruising to the 104-74 scoreline.
“Meral got off to a rocky start, there might be some nerves in there. It was her first Division I game, first time she had played in the United States in front of a crowd and she starts. She gets out there and has some turnovers, some unforced turnovers, missed some rotations on the defensive end. She came out and she was upset, but that was a good thing because she’s a competitor and she wants to do well. When she got back in there, she made some big plays on her own. There were some things she did that wasn’t a part of our defense, it was just her playing defense, her creating a play on her own,” Collins said of the freshman. “That’s what separates her from some other young ladies so we’re going to continue to try and give her those opportunities and freedom to make those plays as well as the whole team, and then it’s our job to back her up on the other end.”
With Thursday’s exhibition tilt in the books, the Lady Toppers are now set to open the 2018-19 regular season on Tuesday evening at 7 p.m. inside Diddle Arena as they host in-state rival No. 5/4 Louisville. WKU owns a 25-20 lead in the all-time series against the Cardinals, including a 14-6 edge in games played in Bowling Green. In the most recent meeting on John Oldham Court, Kayla Smith sank the game-winning basket with 30 seconds remaining as WKU upset then-No. 16 Louisville, 71-69, on Nov. 21, 2015.