WKU Women’s Basketball: Lady Tops announce full non-conference schedule

After previously announcing its 2018-19 C-USA slate earlier this summer, Lady Topper Basketball has announced its full non-conference schedule under first-year Head Coach Greg Collins that features eight dates inside E.A. Diddle Arena and marquee matches against Power 5 opponents Louisville, Oklahoma, Iowa, Oregon State and Notre Dame.

WKU’s full non-conference schedule includes guaranteed matchups against seven teams which reached the 2018 NCAA Tournament, including each of the Lady Toppers’ first four games. Of those seven teams, four reached at least the Sweet Sixteen, Louisville reached the Final Four and Notre Dame was crowned the national champion following dramatic wins over UConn and Mississippi State.

“This is probably the most challenging schedule that we’ve played in a long time. At least seven of our opponents were in the NCAA Tournament last year, including the national champions (Notre Dame), a Final Four team (Louisville), an Elite Eight team (Oregon State) and a Sweet Sixteen team (Central Michigan),” Collins said. “We’re thrilled to have such high-caliber programs like Louisville and Iowa coming to Diddle Arena. Both of those teams will be a big challenge for us. Our players and fans should be excited about the opportunity to play teams like that at home.”

The Lady Toppers will open the 2018-19 season with an exhibition matchup against West Virginia State on Thursday, Nov. 1, inside Diddle Arena before the previously announced regular season opener against longtime rival Louisville on Tuesday, Nov. 6. WKU will be meeting Louisville, a 2018 Final Four participant, for the 46th time in school history, with the Lady Toppers holding a slight 25-20 edge in the all-time series. In the most recent meeting in Bowling Green, then-freshman Kayla Smith sank the game-winning basket with 30 seconds remaining as WKU upset the Cardinals, 71-69, on Nov. 21, 2015.

Just three days after the bout with Louisville, WKU will make the trek west to take on Oklahoma for the first time since the 1985-86 campaign. The Sooners have quietly been one of the most consistent programs in the nation, reaching 19 consecutive NCAA Tournaments and making an appearance in the national championship game in 2001-02. In a strong Big 12 Conference, Oklahoma has not finished lower than fifth in the conference standings since 2004-05, capturing three regular season crowns and a pair of tournament championships along the way under Head Coach Sherri Coale.

WKU’s whirlwind start to the season continues on Tuesday, Nov. 13, as the Lady Toppers welcome Iowa to Diddle Arena for a rematch of last season’s 104-97 overtime thriller in the 2017 Hawkeye Classic. With the Hawkeyes visiting, WKU will be hosting two Power 5 opponents for the first time since 2010-11, when the Lady Toppers brought Northwestern and Texas Tech to Diddle Arena. Iowa finished 2017-18 with a 24-7 record and reached the opening round of the NCAA Tournament.

Following the short trip home, WKU will head north to square off against 2017-18 Sweet Sixteen participant Central Michigan in Mount Pleasant, Mich., on Saturday, Nov. 17. The Lady Toppers and Chippewas have never met on the hardwood, but Central Michigan enjoyed arguably the best season in school history last year, knocking off LSU and Ohio State in the NCAA Tournament and ending with a 30-5 overall record.

On Tuesday, Nov. 20, the Lady Toppers will bring Southern Illinois to Diddle Arena as part of the home-and-home series against the Salukis. Last season, WKU traveled to Carbondale, Ill., and defeated Southern Illinois, 75-49, on its home court, outscoring the Salukis 37-19 in the second half to pull away for the victory. WKU will be eyeing its fourth straight win in the series and owns a narrow 8-6 edge all-time against the Salukis.

For its in-season tournament, WKU will leave the United States for the first time since 2013-14 to participate in the 2018 Vancouver Showcase presented by bd Global in Vancouver, British Columbia, Canada. In a loaded field, the Lady Toppers will get a rematch of their first-round NCAA Tournament matchup against Oregon State on Thursday, Nov. 22, and will then face either ETSU or South Carolina the following day. On the final day of the tournament, WKU will be matched up against either Drake, Gonzaga, Notre Dame or Rutgers depending on the results of the first two days.

“Vancouver will be a tough, tough week with four games for us that week,” Collins said. “It will be a great early-season test for our team. The event organizers have a field of teams as strong as an NCAA regional. Traveling and playing in this tournament will help us to gain much needed experience and help us to continue to grow as we get ready for our C-USA schedule.”

Over the final month of its non-conference slate, WKU is set to face Morgan State (Nov. 28), Bellarmine (Dec. 8), Ball State (Dec. 16) and Union (Tenn.) (Dec. 29) inside Diddle Arena and will head on the road for two premier tilts away from home. The first, on Dec. 1, will be a battle against former Sun Belt rival Little Rock. In the last meeting between the two sides, the Lady Toppers edged the Trojans, 66-62, in the semifinals of the Sun Belt Tournament in 2014 en route to their first conference tournament title under former Head Coach Michelle Clark-Heard.

Finally, WKU will wrap up the road portion of its non-conference schedule with a visit to the reigning national champion Notre Dame on Wednesday, Dec. 19. This matchup will mark the first time that the Lady Toppers have squared off against the current national title holder since 1997-98, when WKU met Tennessee in the second round of the NCAA Tournament on March 16, 1998. Last season, WKU went toe-to-toe with the Fighting Irish for much of the game inside Diddle Arena, staying within one possession until the third quarter before eventually falling, 78-65.

As previously announced, WKU will kick off its slate of 16 C-USA matchups on Thursday, Jan. 3, as the Lady Toppers host Charlotte inside Diddle Arena.

WKU (24-9 in 2017-18) returns the reigning C-USA Freshman of the Year and Sixth Player of the Year in Raneem Elgedawy and Dee Givens, respectively, and also brings back Whitney Creech, who started all but one game last season and earned C-USA All-Tournament Team honors. Despite losing mainstays Tashia and Ivy Brown, the Lady Toppers will look to continue their strong form from the last few seasons, having won 154 games over the last six years while capturing four conference tournament titles over that same span.