Women’s basketball poised for potential conference championship run
The women’s basketball team has seen steady improvement over the past two seasons, to say the least. In 2016-17, the Owls won the Women’s Basketball Invitational, and last season they took it a step further by qualifying for the Women’s National Invitation Tournament. This year, the aspirations for this team are even higher; Rice is picked second (including five first place votes) in the Conference USA Preseason Coaches’ Poll. Tina Langley returns for her fourth season in charge as the Owls’ head coach.
The Owls return their two leading scorers and star players, as both senior forward Nicole Iademarco and junior guard Erica Ogwumike turned in award-winning campaigns last season. Iademarco averaged 13.5 points per game last year and ranked fifth in the conference in three-point field goals made. For her efforts, she was named to the C-USA All-Conference second team.
Ogwumike was the Owls’ leading scorer in the last campaign and averaged nearly a double-double per game, with 17.9 points and 9.3 rebounds per game. These marks helped her earn C-USA Newcomer of the Year award for 2017-18, and she was also voted the 2018-19 C-USA Preseason Player of the Year. Ogwumike said she appreciates the honor.
“It’s awesome,” Ogwumike said. “It’s neat to be awarded an accolade because I’ve worked a lot the past few years and I can only thank my teammates as well. Every year, we’ve had a good group of girls who have helped me learn the plays and get better and improve and they motivate me every single year.”
According to Langley, Ogwumike isn’t just a good basketball player.
“Erica is a tremendous person and player,” Langley said. “She works incredibly hard. She represents not only the culture of the program but also that of Rice University really well.”
This year, the Owls scheduled many out-of-conference games against big-name opponents. In its first game of the season on Nov. 7, Rice plays Texas A&M University of the Big 12 Conference, which made it to the Sweet 16 of the NCAA Tournament last year. In their second game of the season, the Owls take on the University of California, Los Angeles of the Pac-12 Conference; the Bruins were an Elite Eight finisher last season. And in December, the Owls take on the Tar Heels of the University of North Carolina, hailing from the Atlantic Coast Conference. Langley said these games will be good indicators of her team’s potential.
The Owls scheduled many out of conference games against big-name opponents. In its first game of the season, Rice plays Texas A&M University of the Southeastern Conference, who made it to the Sweet 16 of the NCAA Tournament last year. In their second game of the season, the Owls take on the University of California, Los Angeles of the Pac-12 conference; the Bruins were an Elite Eight finisher last season. And in December, the Owls take on the Tar Heels of the University of North Carolina, hailing from the Atlantic Coast Conference. Langley said these games will be good indicators of her team’s potential.
“We want to be a team that can compete not only to be in the NCAA Tournament, but to be a team that competes on a national level,” Langley said. “So to take that next step, we've got to continue to play the best teams and those teams will tell us where we are.”
This year Rice has placed some high expectations on the team, both internally and externally. The team has adopted a central theme that will help them as the season progresses, according to Ogwumike.
“I think our goals as a team are just to improve and to achieve excellence,” Ogwumike said. “Our theme for this year is ‘Fight for Greatness.’ We're just trying to be great every day and to improve. And I think if we have that goal every day, it, the sky's the limit when it comes to the [NCAA] tournament and conference tournament.”
The Owls begin their regular season at Texas A&M University on Wednesday, Nov. 7.
A previous version of this article misstated Texas A&M University’s conference. The Aggies are in the SEC.
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