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WKU downs North Texas, advances to C-USA semifinal round

BIRMINGHAM, Ala. – WKU led nearly wire-to-wire and claimed a 78-51 victory over North Texas in the 2017 C-USA Championships quarterfinals inside Bartow Arena on Thursday afternoon, advancing to Friday’s semifinals to face the winner of Charlotte and Louisiana Tech.

Squaring off for the second time in one week, the Lady Toppers (25-6) bettered their first margin of victory against the Mean Green (12-19) by seven points, picking up a 27-point win on Thursday after winning the first matchup, 75-55, last Thursday in Denton, Texas.

Tashia Brown led all scorers with 24 points in the victory and was joined in double figures by Kendall Noble (19) and Sidnee Bopp (10). Noble also led all players in rebounding with 10 boards on the day for her fifth double-double of the season and dished out a team-best five assists.

After being held to just 34.4 percent (11-of-32) shooting in the opening half, WKU found its offensive groove over the final 20 minutes, knocking down 14 of its 29 opportunities (48.3 percent) to close out the Mean Green.

Tyara Warren led North Texas with 15 points on Thursday afternoon, and teammate Kelsey Criner pitched in 12 points. Criner dealt a game-high six assists, and Jada Poland brought down a team-high five rebounds.

WKU jumped out in front over the opening four minutes of the day, scoring nine of the game’s first 11 points. Three-pointers from Micah Jones and Kyvin Goodin-Rogers keyed the run for the Lady Toppers en route to the early advantage over the Mean Green.

North Texas fired back with five straight points to cut WKU’s lead to just two points, but the Lady Toppers answered with five quick points of their own to rebuild the seven-point edge. The Mean Green finished the opening quarter on a 5-0 run over the final 90 seconds to trim their deficit to 16-14 after 10 minutes.

Midway through the second quarter, North Texas used four straight points to pull into a tie with WKU at 20-20. Warren converted a pair of free throws, and Criner’s layup with 5:52 on the clock led to the first deadlock of the game.

After that tie, WKU pieced together a 9-0 run over the next two minutes to build a sizable nine-point edge. Bopp kicked off the stretch with a triple and baskets from Tashia Brown, Noble and Akpan buoyed the Lady Toppers. North Texas pulled within seven points once over the final three minutes but could get no closer than that as WKU carried a 39-28 advantage into the halftime break.

WKU scored the first seven points of the third quarter out of the halftime break, punctuated by a three-point play from Noble, to build its biggest lead of the game to that point at 46-28. The lead continued to grow throughout the remainder of the third frame, culminating in a 22-point advantage, 63-41, entering the final 10 minutes.

In the final quarter, WKU never relinquished its 20-point lead, not allowing North Texas any closer than 22 points down the stretch. The Lady Toppers’ lead grew to as many as 33, 77-44, after Kayla Smith’s layup with 1:57 remaining, and WKU claimed the 78-51 victory after holding the Mean Green at bay over the final two minutes.

With its victory on Thursday, WKU advances to Friday’s semifinals at Legacy Arena and will face the winner of Charlotte and Louisiana Tech at 4:30 p.m. (CT). In the regular season, the Lady Toppers split with the 49ers and downed the Lady Techsters, 67-58, on Feb. 2 inside Diddle Arena.

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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