Green Wave washes away Owls
Fighting plane delays, injuries and finals, the women's basketball team began playing up to its true potential over the holiday break. The women started shooting well, were dominant on the boards and played lock-down defense when they needed big stops. They ended last semester without a win; now, as the second semester begins, they have six, bringing them in sight of the .500 mark for the first time all season. The Owls (6-9, 0-2 Conference USA) received their first taste of victory at their own tournament right before break, knocking off the University of Texas Pan-American 71-57 with sophomore forward Jackie Stanley carrying the load of the team in a record-setting 36-point performance. The win on the opening day of the Gene Hackerman Invitational ended the worst start to a season in the program's history, and the win, it appears, resulted in a momentum shift for the downtrodden team.
Untortunately, freshman forward Lacey Neu went down for the season with an ACL injury in the first game of the tournament. She was injured during the last game for which she could receive a medical redshirt and will still be able play her four complete years at Rice.
A loss to Lamar University (12-4, 2-0 Southland Conference) stalled the women's progression, but the next four games brought four straight victories, including a 65-57 victory against a major power opponent in George Washington University (3-11, 0-2 Atlantic-10 Conference). The win against George Washington was the Owls' first road win in a year and a half.
While the starters maintained their steady pace, it was the bench that began to emerge as an asset to provide depth to head coach Greg William's (Hanszen '70) arsenal, according to Stanley.
"I think in general everyone stepped it up," Stanley said. "Our bench really picked up. It's really good to know that we have depth to our roster and they're playing well."
The bench had also recently added a new contributor to help out. Sophomore point guard D'Frantz Smart, who had started 26 games her freshman year, was temporarily removed from the lineup over break after a disappointing opening to the season. The captain, whom Williams hoped would be a major contributor in both points and minutes this year, had fallen short of her own goals.
"[Smart] responded really well [to the demotion]," Williams said. "She started working really hard in practice and changed her game. She got more aggressive, which is what we wanted her to do. It was like she had a rebirth; it's important because our team plays off of her."
After two games off the bench, Smart finally returned to the starting lineup against Northwestern State (9-6), and promptly scored a season-high 16 points in the victory, followed by 24 points the following night.
Conference play began at the end of the break, and with it brought an end to the Owls' momentum. The team traveled to the University of Texas at El Paso Jan. 9 to open the Conference USA slate, but Rice could not find the mark on its shooting in the first half, finishing at 25 percent. While the Owls picked it up in the second half, the defense faltered, allowing UTEP (10-6, 1-1 C-USA) to put up 46 points. Rice ended up falling by a final score of 74-64.
After a difficult trip to Tulane University involving both a long layover and lost baggage, the Owls came out flat against the Green Wave (12-3, 1-1 C-USA), finding themselves down 15 in the first half. It proved to be too much for the Owls to overcome, as they fell by a final score of 82-60, to remain winless in conference play.
But as the team knows, being winless does not preclude a run back to .500, as evidenced by its winter break success. The Owls will hope to rekindle some of that fire this weekend, hosting Marshall University, which is looking to snap Rice's four game home winning streak. After Marshall (10-5, 2-1 C-USA), which averages 4.2 blocks per game, the Owls host league-leader East Carolina University (14-2, 3-0 C-USA), which is averaging a league-leading 74.6 points a game.
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