Women off to worst start in history
Not once in the 31-year history of women's basketball at Rice has victory been so elusive. After six failed attempts at a mark in the win column, the Owls have only a goose egg to show for their efforts. Whether it be foul trouble or poor outside shooting, weak interior defense or the lack of a transition game, the combination of factors that led to Rice's start have been numerous, obvious and hampering.
"You know, every coach in the beginning of their season thinks about their best-case scenario and the worst-case scenario," Head Coach Greg Williams said. "But never in any of my scenarios did I think [we would be] 0-6."
In the last two weeks, the women have plied their trade throughout the country, but their attempts at breaking out their first win have all fallen flat. They fell to national powerhouse Texas A&M University (4-0), currently ranked 11th in the country, on Nov. 18 by a score of 86-50. The Owls then traveled to Nacogdoches, Texas, to take on Stephen F. Austin University, falling 92-82 to the Ladyjacks (3-1).
The road woes behind them, Rice turned to Tudor Fieldhouse to provide a reprieve from the early-season doldrums. Taking on the University of Arkansas-Little Rock, the Owls made enough shots from behind the three-point arc to offset their weaker post defense and enter the half with a 28-25 lead. Sophomore point guard D'Frantz Smart led the team with five points in the half as the Owls spread scoring across the roster.
But the second half was another story completely, as three-pointers ceased to fall and Rice could hide its weaker post defense no longer. The Trojans (3-3) went on a 20-2 scoring run, finishing on top 73-54 and washing out the Owls' hopes for their first victory.
"It's frustrating because we had the same problem last season," Williams said of allowing opponents to surge in the second half. "We had more preseason conditioning this year and were hoping that we had made progress on this."
UALR forward Chastity Reed dominated the Owls inside, pouring in 29 points for the Trojans on their way to victory. A key for UALR was their ability to shut down the Owls' top scorers, as junior forward Morgan Mayse, second on the team in scoring with 10.2 points per game behind sophomore guard Jackie Stanley's 12.3, was the only Owl to score double digits. After leading the team in scoring at halftime, Smart was held scoreless in the second half.
Reeling from the stunning comeback, the Owls traveled to Coral Gables, Fla., over Thanksgiving break for the Wyndham Miami Thanksgiving Tournament. The tale was more of the same as, playing their opening game against the University of Massachusetts (3-3) Friday night, Rice fell by a score of 71-57.
The first half passed slowly for Rice, as the Owls shot just 10 percent from beyond the arc and 32 percent from the field. Rice's shooting picked up in the second half, but the team could not overcome the 13-point deficit left from the poor first half.
Senior guard Tara Watts led the way for the Owls with 13 points, including three three-pointers, in one of the few bright spots from the tournament. With the three-pointers, Watts rose to fourth on the Rice women's all-time three-point shooting list.
Watts credited her success last weekend to the space provided by her teammates.
"Personally that day I just was making shots," Watts said. "My teammates were getting me open looks, and I was able to make a lot of them."
The Owls then competed in the consolation game Saturday against Long Beach State University 68-64. The Owls led by a point at the half, but they crushed whatever momentum they had gained by allowing Long Beach (3-3) to put up 16 free throws in the second half. Shooting 70 percent from the charity stripe, the 49ers swiped the 68-64 win.
Stanley posted a double-double, her first on the season, scoring 24 points and pulling down 11 rebounds. Rice dominated the boards, outrebounding Long Beach by a margin of 51-37. However, the Owls only shot 37.5 percent from the field and committed 22 turnovers compared to the 49ers' 14.
The Owls hope a return home this weekend will stop the slide, as they host the Gene Hackerman Invitational at Tudor Fieldhouse. The first game tips off at 5 p.m. on Friday, with the Owls playing University of Texas-Pan American, a fellow winless squad, (0-8) at 7 p.m. The consolation game will begin at 5 p.m. the next day, with the championship at 7 p.m. on Sunday. Looking into the holiday break, the Owls play five more nonconference games before opening the conference season up on Jan. 8 in El Paso, Texas.
Williams said the team's goals remain the same as they ever have.
"Every coach tells his team going into the tournament that the goal is to make the championship game," Williams said. "Especially on our home floor, that's the gameplan.
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