MOBILE, Ala. (3/08/08) North Texas nearly pulled off the upset of the Sun Belt Tournament, but in the end, top seeded Western Kentucky proved too strong in a 61-53 win at the Mitchell Center.
The Mean Green (14-18) held an eight point lead in the second half, and was still ahead with just under four minutes remaining. But Western Kentucky (24-7) and the Sun Belt Player of the Year Crystal Kelly reeled off a 16-1 run that sealed the deal for the Hilltoppers.
Kelly, who finished with a game-high 18 points and 14 rebounds, helped the Hilltoppers post a 39-29 edge on the boards and an eight point advantage in the paint.
Yari Escalera and Erica Howard were nearly unstoppable in the second half for the Mean Green. Escalera drained a 3-pointer and Howard took control of the post to vault the North Texas lead to eight points midway through the final frame.
Howard led three Mean Green players in double figures with 14 points. Escalera added 11 points and Jo Hall tallied 10.
The Mean Green caught a break when Kelly went to the bench with her fourth foul with just over 12 minutes left in the game. Kelly was forced to play cautiously in crunch time, but North Texas was never able to deliver the knockout punch.
North Texas opened the game with a fury, posting a 20-10 lead on the strength of Howard’s play down low. The senior had eight points out of the gate to give the Mean Green a sizeable early advantage.
However, the lead was short lived as the Hilltoppers answered with a 14-0 run of their own. Dominique Duck was the answer for WKU with 11 first-half points. She finished the game with 15 points.
WKU raced to a three point lead with seconds remaining in the half before Escalera struck from deep. The junior nailed a 30-footer to send the teams into the break tied at 29-29.