Rice women’s basketball improved its record to 4-2 by defeating McNeese State University, 93-65 on Sunday afternoon at Tudor Fieldhouse. With the win, Rice extended its winning streak to four games, after losing its first two games to top-25 ranked opponents.
Sunday’s matchup favored the Owls based on season results: McNeese State entered the game winless, at 0-5. Early in the game, however, the Cowgirls took a six-point lead after back-to-back 3-pointers. Rice responded with a 13-0 run, sparked by 11 points from freshman guard Haylee Swayze.
The Owls led by at least six points the rest of the game. Swayze finished with 23 points on 5-for-9 shooting from 3-point range. Junior guard Erica Ogwumike nearly had a triple double, adding 21 points, eight rebounds and eight steals. As a team, the Owls snatched 16 steals and scored 29 points off turnovers.
Rice head coach Tina Langley said the key to the Owls’ defensive tenacity was grit.
“It was our third game in five days,” Langley said. “During the holiday season, it was tough to come out and prepare for a game mentally. I like the way we competed.”
According to Ogwumike, Rice still needs to prove it can perform at an elite level for an entire game. McNeese State scored 16 points off of Rice turnovers and added 27 points from bench players.
“Even when we got a bucket on one end, there were things we could do better [defensively],” Ogwumike said. “There were a lot of hiccups during the game. Consistency is what we need and our coaches and bench did a good job of reiterating that throughout the game [against McNeese State].”
According to Swayze, poor execution is inevitable at times during a game. Rather than trying to be perfect, Swayze said the Owls must put more emphasis on keeping a strong mentality.
“I think it is really important to fight at the end of the game when we are fatigued,” Swayze said. “If we are able to be aggressive [in the fourth quarter], we can win games.”
Rice receives an extended break before playing its next game at home on Saturday against the University of New Orleans. Langley said her team should not pressure itself to continue its current win streak.
“We have to tell our team that the win and the loss does not matter, because it does not show what we are capable of,” Langley said. “There have been games where we lost but we played well, and we learn a lot from those games. Of course there have also been games we have won that felt like losses. For us it is about the process: How well are we doing on the offensive end of the floor? How well are we doing on the defensive side of the floor? How well are we doing with our leadership?”
Eleven Rice players received minutes during the game against McNeese State, including four freshmen. A trio of seniors are relied upon to mentor Langley’s young talent: Shani Rainey, Lauren Grigsby and Nicole Iademarco. According to Langley, Rice’s seniors have taken their leadership roles in stride.
“Our veterans have really embraced our younger players,” Langley said. “Our players are learning to play with one another and that allows us to maximize our depth. Our freshman have played fearless and worked incredibly hard. The added depth will help us going forward.”