Tigers outclaw Owls
With adrenaline running high and expectations continually rising, the women's basketball team had all the momentum in the world coming into its only game of the week, a weekend road match-up with University of Memphis last Saturday, an elite program in Conference USA. Unfortunately, the Owls (8-10, 2-3 C-USA) needed just a pinch more momentum, as they fell 59-58 in an overtime thriller that was just as entertaining as it was close.
Memphis (11-7, 4-1 C-USA) controlled the first half of the game, beginning with a 12-0 run at the outset of the game. Rice's first field goal did not come until almost nine minutes into the game, and the Owls stared at a long road back to making it close.
But somehow, they did just that, and the first half ended with Rice only four back of the Tigers.
The second half was a wild one, as the Owls tied the game a few minutes into the half and began a back-and-forth tussle that would last the rest of the contest. Rice's shooting percentage, only 15 percent in the first half, kept pace with the Tigers, and the Owls matched up better with Memphis on the boards and in turnovers.
After grasping to a lead within the final minutes, sophomore guard D'Frantz Smart made a pair of free throws with 44 seconds left to give Rice its largest lead of the night, a five-point advantage with time winding down.
However, Memphis regained its composure enough to find its leading scorer, Brittany Carter, who hit a clutch jump shot and drew the foul to bring the Tigers within three. Memphis would go on to miss the free throw but gain the offensive rebound and convert on the subsequent possession, cutting the Owls' lead to one.
Smart was then once again fouled when the Owls regained the ball, only to miss both free throws and hand the ball back to the Tigers with 13 seconds remaining. Five seconds later, senior guard Tara Watts fouled Memphis guard LaToya Bullard, putting her on the free throw line with the game on the line.
Bullard missed the first free throw but bounced in the second one, pushing the game into overtime.
In overtime, Memphis jumped out to an early lead and never gave it up. The Owls slowly chipped away at the Tigers' lead, cutting it to one with 50 seconds left after a Watts three-pointer. The Owls regained the ball once again in the game, but a shot by junior forward Morgan Mayse missed the mark to leave Rice looking up at the scoreboard in defeat.
Sophomore forward Jackie Stanley scored 14 points for the Owls, while Smart recorded another game-high of 19. Carter, the conference's leading scorer, contributed 22 for the Tigers.
Smart was visibly and rightfully upset after losing such a close game, a game key to the Owls' standings inside conference.
"We just didn't finish," Smart said. "We were up five with up 20 seconds left. We just lost focus. We missed some key free throws and some rebounds. But we're definitely going to learn from this. It definitely should have been a win for us."
After the near-miss, the Owls had a rare weeknight game with Southern Methodist University coming into Houston Thursday evening. The Mustangs (14-4, 4-1 C-USA) are currently second in C-USA and have won eight of their last 10 coming into the game.
The University of Tulsa will then fly into Houston Saturday in search of its first C-USA win. The Golden Hurricane (6-10, 0-5 C-USA) should provide a reprieve for a Rice squad that has been battling the conference's toughest foes for weeks now.
If the Owls plan on competing for one of the four byes for the C-USA tournament, it is crucial that they capture both of these important games after the slip-up against Memphis.
"There's a fine line between winning and losing, and our players have seen this the last few games," Head Coach Greg Williams said. "The two games this weekend will probably be very similar. SMU is coming in, and I think they're the best team in the league.