For all of the tough losses and the sluggish start, the Western Kentucky women’s basketball team will now sit atop the Sun Belt Conference for more than a week.
The Lady Toppers (3-8, 1-0 Sun Belt) held Florida International to 11 points in the first half Sunday, rolling to a 65-48 win in their conference opener at E.A. Diddle Arena.
The game was the Sun Belt’s first conference contest of the season, and it’ll be the only one until Middle Tennessee and FIU meet on Dec. 21.
Until then, WKU, which hasn’t won consecutive games this season, rules the roost.
FIU’s 11 points were the fewest a Lady Topper team has allowed in a half since Texas-Pan American scored nine second-half points on Jan. 15, 1998.
The Golden Panthers outscored the Lady Toppers 37-34 in the second half, as FIU sophomore guard Jerica Coley racked up 26 of her 32 points after the break.
Coley was 10 of 27 from the field, while the rest of her teammates were a combined 5 of 30.
WKU senior guard Vanessa Obafemi scored a career-high 18 points with five 3-pointers.
The Lady Toppers don’t play again until Dec. 21, when they travel to Texas Tech.
Here are postgame comments from coach Mary Taylor Cowles and Obafemi:
Mary Taylor Cowles
“I don’t know if it was our defensive intensity that sparked our offense or if it was our good shooting that sparked our defense, but … we picked a great time to piece it all together. It’s been a hard week, but our ladies came in with a purpose and understood what opening conference play meant.”
On what clicked in the first half:
“Our zone was very effective. We had a lot of energy and rebounded the ball really well. We executed our offense really well and moved the ball. When you’re firing on all cylinders like that and able to put both ends of the floor together, it typically ends with some good things.”
On FIU’s late run:
“I didn’t really like the way the game ended with their pressure extending and the way we handled it, but at the same time, I liked that we had to handle it and find a way to deal with it. We did exactly that.”
On getting a second chance in conference play:
“Our young ladies have endured a lot through this adversity in our nonconference schedule. We lost some games that we should not have and had some things that we simply haven’t done well, but they’re smart and knew this conference season opened up a new opportunity for them.”
On Obafemi’s play:
“She is a good shooter, and we saw that all last year. You also have to give credit that it’s a senior stepping up for you, and it also shows how much it means to Vanessa. With her stats today, that’s Vanessa’s way of stepping up and doing her part.”
On FIU guard Jerica Coley:
“I don’t really know what you do with Coley, to be honest. We spent a lot of time talking about her, and she’s just a phenomenal player. There are other very good basketball players on their team, so I don’t know if we knew a way to shut her down. In all the film we’ve watched, I don’t think I’ve seen her be shut down. We knew that we could not let other people step up and have big nights if we wanted to be on the winning side.”
“These past couple of days, we’ve been talking about starting a new season with conference play. We wanted to get that first win.”
On her own play:
“My teammates really believe in me. They’re really confident in me, and that helps me during the game.”
On stopping Jerica Coley:
“We’ve been focusing a lot on defense. We knew we had to stop Coley, and in the first half we did. She stepped up in the second half, and we knew we had to get stops to win.”
“Our original plan was to shut her down. In the second half, she took over. She made some tough shots and even penetrated through the zone. She’s a great player.”
On FIU’s second-half press defense:
“Coach said we needed that pressure to work on our press offense. We learned today that we needed that.”
On what lies ahead:
“We need to work on being consistent. We can’t play good one game and then let down the next game. We have to carry this over into our next game, which is a while from now, but we’ll be ready.”