The Rice Owls women’s basketball team advanced to the Women’s Basketball Invitational championship with a 86-80 win against the University of Idaho Vandals in a Friday night contest at a raucous Tudor Fieldhouse.
Five Owls scored in double figures. Senior point guard Maya Hawkins led all players in scoring with 25 points, shooting 11-for-20 from the field and 3-for-7 from the three-point line. Sophomore guard Nicole Iademarco also notched four three-pointers and scored 17 points. Sophomore guard Lauren Grigsby provided a lift off the bench with 10 points in only 20 minutes.
Head coach Tina Langley said she was impressed with her team’s performance down the stretch in such a close game.
“Our entire season prepared us for this,” Langley said. “Conference play helped us with so many close games. It is great to see the accumulation of all the work we have put in this season.”
Rice compiled field goal and three-point percentages above their season average, shooting 34-for-66 from the field (52 percent) and 10-for-23 from the three-point line (44 percent). The Owls also limited turnovers, coughing the ball up only 15 times. Rice allowed Idaho to shoot 31-for-57 from the field (54 percent) and 12-for-32 from the three-point line (38 percent), although the Owls held the Vandals to a 1-for-6 mark from the three-point line during the decisive fourth period.
As a senior captain, Hawkins has been at the center of the Owls’ team for four years. She was visibly excited during the press conference following the win. According to Hawkins, the Owls’ success comes from the hard work the players and coaches have put in all season.
“We really prepared all season for this,” Hawkins said. “We didn’t know that this would be the game that would take all the grit we had. But our team played incredibly hard and we kept pushing the whole time. That is what won us this game.”
Rice jumped out to a quick 15-6 lead four minutes into the first quarter after Hawkins made her second layup. At the end of the first quarter, the Owls held a seven-point lead. However, the game was never certain, as Idaho’s Taylor Pierce led a dangerous Vandals’ perimeter attack with six three-pointers. Hawkins said the Rice’s defensive preparation and effort helped the Owls cool Idaho’s offense in the fourth quarter and capture the win.
“Their post could come out and take it off the dribble and shoot the three,” Hawkins said. “They are really balanced on offense. But we scouted them really well and we were able to read their sets and defend them until the end.”
In just her second season as the Owls’ head coach, Langley is leading Rice to its first championship game outside of a conference tournament. Langley was effusive in her praise for Rice’s seniors, complementing Idaho’s effort and talent while expressing excitement for the title game. According to Langley, this season has been a tremendous success for the Owls no matter the result of their final game.
“I am really proud of our team,” Langley said. “Maya [Hawkins] was huge tonight and has been a phenomenal leader all season. I am really happy our team has a chance to compete for a championship.”
Rice (21-13) will host the University of North Carolina, Greensboro (20-14) in the WBI championship on Sunday, March 26 at 4:00 p.m at Tudor Fieldhouse.