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Lady Tops beat Rice 80-75, win C-USA regular season title

BOWLING GREEN, Ky. – WKU claimed its second outright C-USA regular season championship in three seasons as a member of the league with an 80-75 victory inside Tudor Fieldhouse against Rice on Saturday afternoon, overcoming an early eight-point deficit in the championship-clinching win.

The regular season title is the 12th in program history, and WKU (24-6, 16-2 C-USA) had already secured the top seed in next week’s C-USA Tournament in Birmingham, Ala., by virtue of its win over North Texas on Thursday evening. The Lady Toppers’ 16 conference victories also match the school record established in 2007-08 and 2014-15.

Facing an eight-point hole early in the first quarter, C-USA Player of the Year candidate Kendall Noble helped to orchestrate WKU’s comeback victory, finishing the day with a near-triple-double effort of 22 points, 10 rebounds and six assists. Sophomore Sidnee Bopp also played a key role in the win, setting career-highs across the board with 17 points and five three-pointers.

Redshirt junior Kyvin Goodin-Rogers rounded out the trio in double figures, tallying 16 points as well as a critical pair of late free throws to stave off Rice’s comeback attempt.

For the Owls (17-12, 8-10 C-USA), Maya Hawkins had a team-best 19 points and was joined in double figures by Jasmine Goodwine (16), Nicole Iademarco (14) and Shani Rainey (12). Rainey pulled down a team-high seven boards, while Hawkins had a game-best seven assists.

Rice came out of the locker room firing to start the game, scoring 11 of the day’s first 14 points to grab an early eight-point lead over the Lady Toppers. Wendy Knight and Iademarco each knocked down three-pointers during the run, and Iademarco’s four-point play with 7:24 on the clock left the Owls with an 11-3 advantage three minutes into the game.

Still trailing by eight, 15-7, three minutes later, WKU made its first big run of the day, scoring seven straight points to cut Rice’s lead to just one point. A triple from Bopp kicked off the stretch and back-to-back baskets from Ivy Brown brought the Lady Toppers to within 15-14 with just under three minutes remaining in the first frame.

Wrapped around the break between the first two quarters, WKU used 14 unanswered points to seize its first lead of the day. Two three-pointers from Jaycee Coe buoyed the Lady Toppers during the run, and five points from Noble helped to push WKU to a 28-20 lead with 8:16 on the clock early in the second quarter.

Following WKU’s run, Rice put together eight unanswered points of its own to knot the game at 28-28. Three different Owls scored during the run, and Goodwine punctuated the stretch with a three-point play just under the five-minute mark.

Both sides battled nearly evenly over the final five minutes of the half as WKU claimed a slim 37-34 lead over the Owls going into the halftime break.

Neither side could break out for more than a one-possession lead over the first six minutes of the third quarter that featured a pair of lead changes and three ties. Knotted at 43-43, WKU rattled off a 12-2 run over a three-minute span to grab its first double-digit lead of the day, capped by Micah Jones’ three-pointer with 1:56 to play. Rice’s Goodwine knocked down a layup at the buzzer, but WKU carried a 57-49 edge into the final 10 minutes.

WKU’s lead grew to as many as 13 points following another Bopp three-pointer with 5:35 on the clock, but a 14-3 run by the Owls trimmed the advantage to only one point, 75-74, with only 18 seconds remaining in the game. Despite clinging to that one-point lead, the Lady Toppers closed out the game with free throws from Goodin-Rogers, Jones and Tashia Brown to seal the hard-fought 80-75 victory.

As the No. 1 seed in next week’s C-USA Tournament, WKU is set to face the winner of the No. 8-No. 9 matchup in Thursday’s quarterfinals. Opponents and playing times will officially be finalized following Saturday’s conclusion of the regular season.

How to Follow the Lady Toppers: For complete information on WKU Lady Topper Basketball, visit WKUSports.com or follow the program via social media @LadyTopperHoops on Twitter, @LadyTopperHoops on Instagram and on Facebook at facebook.com/WKUWomensBasketball.

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