Rice women’s basketball continued its losing streak this week with its third and fourth consecutive conference losses. The Owls fell to the University of Alabama Birmingham (64-55) and Middle Tennessee State University (61-60). In their past four games, the Owls have started slowly–at halftime, Rice trailed against Western Kentucky University (27-19), Marshall University (42-24), UAB (32-21) and Middle Tennessee (30-26).
When the Owls hosted UAB on Thursday Jan. 21, the squad was looking to snap a two game losing streak. The Blazers, meanwhile, came in riding a two game winning streak. Early on, UAB went on a 15-2 run to take control of the game.
According to Head Coach Tina Langley, UAB earned its lead over Rice, and the Owls’ mistakes in the first half were unacceptable.
“First of all, credit to UAB for coming out and really taking it to us in the first half. We turned the ball over 13 times,” Langley said. “A lot of those times were unforced by us. Those are the kind of turnovers you can’t have.”
The Blazers led by as many as 17 points in the first half, but a buzzer-beating layup by Rice junior guard Maya Hawkins cut the deficit to 11 points at halftime.
In the second half, Rice came out strong. The Owls opened on a 19-9 run to cut the deficit to a single point, 41-40. Sophomore guard Wendy Knight scored eight of her 12 points during this stretch to key the comeback. The back-and-forth game continued, however, as UAB responded with a 14-4 run to stretch the lead back to 11 before the Owls immediately followed with a 9-0 run to come within 55-53 with just over four minutes to play. Rice would not come any closer. Blazers’ freshman guard Deanna Kuzmanic hit two three pointers to put the game out of reach as UAB won 64-55.
Langley said that she is happy with the squad’s ability to bounce back in difficult situations.
“I am pleased with how we came back,” Langley said. “The team that we are, we were down 17 and cut it to one a couple of times. We had some people step up in big moments, and I thought we fought really hard in this game.”
According to Langley, the team’s weakness lies in its inability to close out games.
“Then we run into those moments where we’ve got to finish the game,” Langley said. “Sometimes we don’t have the confidence we need to have attacking the basket.”
History repeated itself in the Owls’ game against Middle Tennessee as Rice lost by a single point after making a comeback in the second half. With four seconds to go in the game, Blue Raiders’ senior guard Brea Edwards hit a game-winning three pointer to turn a two-point deficit into a one-point lead and doom the Owls. Despite the heartbreaking loss, Langley said she was happy with her team’s performance.
“I’m really excited and proud of the way our team fought and executed and stayed in the moment,” Langley said. “We just kept moving forward and looking for the next opportunity to be successful. I’m just proud of this team, how they continue to fight and get better every game.”
For the second straight game, first half turnovers hurt Rice. The Owls committed eight turnovers in the first quarter alone and fell behind 19-12. In the second quarter, a strong defense helped Rice come back. They cut the Blue Raiders’ lead to just four points at halftime. Senior forward Alyssa Lang led the Owls in the first half with six points and four rebounds.
In the second half, junior forward Jasmine Goodwine took control. She scored seven points in the third quarter to help bring the Owls back to tie the game at the end of the period. Goodwine then scored 13 points in the fourth quarter to finish off her team-high 22 points. Her jump shot with 31 seconds remaining put the Owls ahead and she hit one of two free throws to give Rice a 60-58 lead. Unfortunately for the Owls, Edwards drained the game winning three pointer on the next possession.
Langley said she recognizes the squad’s efforts and is proud of the strides the team has made and continues to make.
“I really couldn’t ask any more of them, and I’m excited going forward,” Langley said. “That’s what we talk about each day in the locker room, this is a process. We’re not worried about the outcome as much as the process. It’s not about wins as much as it is growth right now.”
To qualify for the NCAA tournament, Rice must finish first in the C-USA tournament. Currently, the team is ranked at No. 12 out of 14 teams. If the Owls continue losing, they will earn a poor seed in their conference tournament, which may dash their chances at an NCAA tournament appearance.
The Owls will face off against the University of North Texas at Tudor Fieldhouse on Saturday Jan. 30 at 2 p.m.