The Rice University women’s basketball team fell back into bad habits as it lost both of its games this week to conference foes. After winning two straight overtime games last week, the Owls could not keep up the momentum and fell on the road to Conference USA rivals Western Kentucky University and Marshall University to bring their record to 3-13 on the season.
Western Kentucky, the defending conference champions, came into the game against Rice sporting a 12-2 record. The Lady Toppers had not lost in their past nine games and had outscored opponents by 16.8 points per game during that stretch. When Rice traveled to Bowling Green, KY on Thursday, they faced the task of ending that streak. During the first half, the Lady Toppers looked like the juggernaut the numbers suggested they were. Western Kentucky forced the Owls into 13 turnovers and got 25 points from its starters to take a 27-19 lead into halftime. Just over a minute and half into the third quarter, Rice found itself down 13 points after giving up the first five points of the second half.
The Owls then began to chip away at the lead. Rice finished the third quarter on a 15-8 run to close within six points. In the fourth quarter, sophomore guard Shani Rainey took over for Rice, scoring 13 of her 15 points to close the deficit to just three in the final minute. With a half a minute to go in the game, however, Rainey missed two free throws, and the Owls could not convert a desperation 3-pointer to send the game to overtime as the buzzer sounded. Despite limiting Western Kentucky to season lows in points (52) and field goal percentage (29.6 percent), Rice lost 52-49. In addition to Rainey, junior guard Maya Hawkins and freshman forward Lexie Ducat starred for the Owls, the former dishing out 10 assists and the latter recording her first career double-double with 12 points and 12 rebounds. According to Head Coach Tina Langley, the Owls could take pride in how they fought despite the loss.
“For our young squad to be able to battle the defending conference champions on the road, you have to be pleased with the effort,” Langley said. “We still have so much to learn, but we take advantage of every opportunity to grow and that’s exciting.”
Following the loss to the Lady Toppers, Rice traveled to Huntington, WV on Saturday to take on Marshall. This game would not be nearly as close as the last one as the Herd never trailed, pulling away with a big second quarter to win 81-52. The game began with an evenly contested first quarter as both teams shot at least 50 percent from the field. Marshall led 22-17 entering the second quarter, but that lead quickly ballooned. The Herd outscored the Owls 20-7 in the quarter and led 42-24 at the half in large part thanks to 64 percent shooting. Despite the dominating effort, no single player stood out for Marshall as senior forward Leah Scott led the Herd with nine first-half points.
The second half was much of the same. The Owls cut the deficit to 16 points early in the third quarter, but they would not come any closer. While the Herd shot only 37.5 percent from the field in the second half, they still managed to score another 39 points thanks to 15 made free throws. Scott finished with 18 points to help Marshall to the 29-point win, its largest margin of victory in a conference game in 11 years. Rice had only two players score in double figures as Rainey led the team with 13 points. No Owl took down more than four rebounds.
The Owls will next be in action when they return home to take on the University of Alabama, Birmingham on Thursday, Jan. 21 at 7 p.m. The game will be the sixth of Rice’s 18 Conference USA games on the season as the team vies for the conference title and a trip to the NCAA tournament.