Western Kentucky earns first NCAA tournament bid since '03

MOBILE, Ala. -- Western Kentucky stopped Middle Tennessee's run on Sun Belt Conference tournament championships.

Kenzie Rich scored 18 points to lead Western Kentucky to the Sun Belt tournament title and an automatic NCAA bid with a 65-49 win over Middle Tennessee on Tuesday.

The Lady Hilltoppers earned their first trip to the NCAA tournament since 2003 and their ninth Sun Belt Conference title.

Crystal Kelly scored 16 points for Western Kentucky (26-7). Tournament MVP Dominique Duck had 12 points and Arnika Brown added 11.

"It feels great," Kelly said. "I guess it's hard to find the words to really describe it. We're so talented and we just played so well together. It feels great to finally have this championship."

Brown and Kelly also had 13 rebounds apiece as the Lady Toppers outrebounded MTSU 37-22.

"We've been very proud of our basketball team," Western Kentucky coach Mary Taylor Cowles said. "It's an awesome feeling. We had a basketball team that came to Mobile this weekend to win the tournament, and everybody stepped up. I'm very excited about the opportunity that these young ladies have presented as far as an NCAA tournament."

Middle Tennessee (21-11) came into the Sun Belt Conference championship game with four straight women's conference titles. The Lady Raiders were led by Amber Holt with 22 points and Emily Queen with 11. But they hit only 34 percent of their shots.

"We didn't play our game today and I'm sure Western Kentucky had a lot to do with that," Middle Tennessee coach Rick Insel said. "They did a good job of putting the ball in the hole. When we're knocking down shots we've got a great team. I'm proud of my players and our hats go out to Western Kentucky."

Holt's twisting layup early in the second half helped Middle Tennessee regain the lead, but Rich's second 3-pointer of the night put Western Kentucky back on top. The Lady Toppers stretched the lead to six before MTSU came back and went up 33-32.

But Duck's basket sparked a 12-0 run to put Western Kentucky up 44-33, and the Lady Raiders would get no closer than 10 points the rest of the way.

"There wasn't anything different that we did in the first half," Holt said. "It's just that we didn't attack like we were in the beginning. If we would have kept attacking we probably would have won the game."