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Tuesday, September 27, 2022 — Houston, TX

Women's basketball rebounds, rises above top C-USA opponents

By Teddy Grodek     1/21/10 6:00pm

Last weekend, the women's basketball team faced what could only be called a do-or-die situation. If they lost their two key conference games, they would then slide to 0-4 in Conference USA, an unfortunate return to their earlier season form. If they pulled the games out, however, the Owls would be back in the hunt for conference tournament byes, which could enable them to make a late tournament run. Or they could split the games, earn their first conference win but remain in a muddled land of questions.

Standing in the way of an answer to the weekend were two of C-USA's elite women's basketball programs: Marshall University (11-6, 3-2 C-USA) and league-leading East Carolina University (15-3, 4-1 C-USA).

The Owls rose to both challenges and fought valiantly against both teams. Both games were close battles, decided by late game possessions and single rebounds. Once all was said and done, the Owls learned their fate, and, with a pair of wins, can now say they have a healthy shot at a bye game come tournament time.

Against Marshall at home on Friday night, the Owls were down until five minutes left in the first half, when senior guard Tara Watts hit a three-pointer that tied the game at 28, before Rice pulled ahead two going into the half.

Coming out in the second half, the Owls never relinquished their lead, though they could never quite take the game out of Marshall's reach. With about five minutes left, Rice had opened the lead up to nine points, their largest of the game.

But with just three minutes left, the Thundering Herd came roaring back, cutting Rice's lead to one point with Marshall prepped to take the lead for the first time since the first half.

But the Owls held Marshall scoreless for the last three minutes, resulting in a final score of 63-61. Junior forward Morgan Mayse led the team with 16 points. Sophomore forward Jackie Stanley recorded another double-double, her fifth on the season.

The Owls did not shoot particularly well in the win, making 38 percent from the field and 29 percent from the three-point range.

Sunday afternoon, the Owls knew they were in for a battle against conference-leading ECU, and it looked as if the momentum would expand rapidly. Rice dominated the first half, controlling the ball and the game up to halftime, when a quick burst from the Pirates knotted the score at 39-39. ECU shot well from the field in the first half with a 53-percent success rate, but the Owls limited their opportunities from outside the arc, holding ECU to only one three-pointer in the half.

Coming out of the locker room, it was a back-and-forth battle the entire half.

Rice pulled away late, went on another key defensive streak at the end of the game, much like during the Marshall game, and stifled the Pirates' last-ditch efforts to take the game 77-74.

The second half was won for the Owls by turnovers. ECU committed nine, giving up 10 points off of their blunders, while the Owls limited their turnovers to two, neither of which led to any ECU points. The Pirates won the game in almost every statistical category, but Rice stuck to them on defense to force more turnovers than it gave up.

Not only did the win solidify Rice's status as a conference threat, Head Coach Greg Williams said the performance was perhaps the best he'd seen all season.

"We probably played our best game of the year from start to finish," Williams said. "We made big plays late, and our little efforts helped us win both games this weekend."

Mayse and freshman guard Jessica Goswitz led the game with 15 points, enough for Goswitz's highest total on the season. Smart chipped in 14 points, her second big game of the weekend. Stanley, playing only 18 minutes due to a combination of foul and knee troubles, contributed 11. The Owls found 17 bench points.

For her efforts over the weekend, Smart was awarded C-USA Player of the Week honors, the first time she has received this award.

This weekend, the Owls take to the road to face another C-USA power, the University of Memphis (10-7, 3-1 C-USA). A win Saturday will give them hope of a high seed come March's conference tournament in Tulsa.

But the Tigers will provide as much, if not more, of a test than Rice's weekend foes presented.

"Memphis is athletic and likes to defend and get out in the passing lanes," Smart said. "We're just working on composure and we're going to keep doing what we've been doing. We can't really focus on them, but we have to focus on ourselves.

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