Women’s basketball achieves first-ever top-25 ranking
For the first time in the 41-year history of the women’s basketball program, the Owls are ranked in the Associated Press Top 25 poll. After receiving votes in each of the last three weeks, Rice makes its debut ranked at No. 25. Head coach Tina Langley said that she has many people to thank for her team’s success.
“We’re just grateful to Rice University and to our athletic administration for believing in what the program can continue to become,” Langley said. “I’m super grateful to the young women and to the coaches who have worked so hard to help us grow as a program.”
The Owls’ record currently sits at 22-3, and they are riding a program-record 15-game win streak. The team completed a weekend sweep at home this past weekend against Florida International University and Florida Atlantic University. Senior forward Nicole Iademarco said that she’s honored to be ranked but that the Owls are not done yet.
“It’s nice to be recognized nationally,” Iademarco said. “We’ve put a lot of work into getting to this point, but we still have a lot of season left and a lot of goals we want to accomplish. So we’re not going to rest or get content with that. We’re just looking forward to our next game.”
Rice’s on-court production is led by junior guard Erica Ogwumike and sophomore center Nancy Mulkey. Ogwumike is averaging a double-double with 16.3 points per game and 11 rebounds per game and Mulkey is averaging 12.2 points per game and 3.7 blocks per game. Ogwumike said she was excited when the news came out.
“I was in class and I started getting a bunch of notifications,” Ogwumike said. “[The ranking] was neat to see. It’s definitely something that we’ve thought about but we tried to not make it the topic of our discussion because we’re just trying to work every single day. It’s definitely cool to see that we were ranked this week.”
In its historic season, Rice has already clinched at least a share of the Conference USA regular season title and has only lost to Power Five conference teams. The Owls have been dominant on defense so far, ranking sixth in the nation in fewest points per game allowed and 19th in the nation in opposition field goal percentage. They lead C-USA in those categories, in addition to field goal percentage and blocks per game. Ogwumike said that said that this team is leaving its mark on the school.
“Being from Houston, I’ve known about Rice and my parents have known about Rice [for academics], and it’s nice to get Rice known basketball-wise too,” Ogwumike said.
Rice has three games remaining in its regular season schedule. The Owls will play away at the University of North Texas, at home against Louisiana Tech University and then back on the road at the University of Texas, San Antonio for the regular season finale.
The Owls will then travel to Frisco, Texas for the C-USA Tournament, which takes place from March 14-16. If the team wins the tournament, they will earn an automatic berth into the NCAA Tournament. Given that Rice has an RPI of 36 and 64 teams make the tournament, even if Rice does not win the conference tournament, the team may have a case for an at-large bid into the bracket. A tournament berth would be the first for the team since 2005. Langley said the team can only focus on itself.
“Greatness for us is about becoming the best team we can be,” Langley said. “If each individual person works to become the best player they can be, then we’ll be the best we can be.”
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