DENTON, Texas - A chance for the North Texas women to move into a tie for first place in the Sun Belt's West Division was snuffed out by a hot-shooting Western Kentucky Hilltopper team that rolled past an out-of-sync Mean Green squad, 76-62, Thursday at the Super Pit.
North Texas, coming off a strong performance in a road win against Arkansas State last week, struggled most of the night, finishing the game shooting 35.2 percent from the field while its defense couldn't slow the Hilltoppers.
"Our effort wasn't good enough tonight," North Texas coach Mike Petersen said. "That has not been the case very often this season. Our effort and focus were not what they needed to be. The team that played the hardest won tonight. This was maybe our worst effort of the year."
The malaise was particularly evident in the North Texas offense. Alexis Hyder, the Mean Green's leading scorer this year, was held to five free throws through the first 31 minutes. BreAnna Dawkins had 12 points in the first half and Loryn Goodwin scored 11 points in the second half, but those were the exceptions on a night when North Texas (8-6 in Sun Belt play, 9-14 on the year) could not build any cohesion, settling for one-on-one scoring chances that could not keep the Mean Green afloat.
"We were taking terrible shots and not executing," Petersen said. "Lots of times I looked out there and had no idea what we were running. During one timeout I asked, 'Who are you and how did you get our uniforms?' It just didn't look like us."
WKU (10-3, 17-5), meanwhile, hit North Texas from multiple directions, using good ball movement to fuel an efficient offense that scored inside and outside. The Hilltoppers had the game's top three scorers with 21, 20, and 17 points.
"We did not guard at all," Petersen said. "We did not compete like we've been competing."
A win Thursday would have moved North Texas into a tie with Arkansas State for first place in the West Division, and, holding a win over ASU, the Mean Green would have enjoyed a tie-breaker advantage.
North Texas came out like it intended to move into that top spot, taking an early 10-4 lead, then going up by seven at 14-7 with 14:50 left in the half. But from that point, WKU caught fire and the blaze lasted through the remainder of the half. The Hilltoppers shot 59.4 percent from the field and were good on four of six three-point shots. The Mean Green, meanwhile, suffered through a cold front that saw them go seven minutes producing just three free throws. The North Texas first-half shooting percentage plummeted to 29.6.
From the seven-point deficit, WKU got a quick 6-0 run all on layups. The Hilltoppers took the lead, 20-18, then pushed the advantage to double-figures. The lead ballooned to 37-23 as WKU rode a 30-9 scoring run, and finished the half with another three-pointer for a 44-29 lead.
WKU led by as many as 19 in the second half before North Texas pushed back and drew within 11 at 69-58, but the Mean Green came up empty on three three-point shots that could have cut the deficit to single digits, and WKU regained control the rest of the way.
Dawkins and Goodwin finished as the leading scorers for North Texas with 16 apiece.
North Texas is back in action on Saturday night at the Super Pit when it hosts Florida International at 5 p.m.