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Online only: Women's basketball season ends in loss to UTEP in first round of C-USA Tournament

By Teddy Grodek     3/11/10 6:00pm

When a team loses their first seven games but still manages to come back and find thirteen victories in a season, what else can you do as a coach but pat them on the back?"I did the team a disservice by scheduling five straight tough road games," Head Coach Greg Williams said. "I'm so proud of how they rebounded and pulled together. We knew we were a young group at the beginning of the year, but they really grew and we're really excited moving into next year."

The Owls'season ended Monday night with a heartbreaking loss to the University of Texas at El Paso (16-15) in the opening round of the Conference USA Championship.

The Owls were poised to enter the tournament after defeating UTEP a few weeks before in a home game by a score of 74-54 on senior night. The Owls then crossed town to the University of Houston (16-13) for the final game of the regular season.

The Owls came out flat in Monday's game, a typical trend on the road, as UTEP jumped out to a quick lead, going up 12 with a little under seven minutes to go in the first half. Rice closed the margin down to four going into the break, however, giving them hope for a second-half turnaround.

UTEP shot the ball incredibly well in the first half, hitting over half of their shots from the field to shoot 54 percent. Sophomore forward Jackie Stanley had a big first half for the Owls, contributing nine points and five rebounds.

Freshman guard Jessica Goswitz, who has been struggling with foot and ankle injuries over the last few weeks, chipped in six points while playing all 20 minutes of the half, providing Williams a constant defensive presence on the floor defending UTEP's best player.

The second half was a constant struggle for both teams as they searched for a key turnover or big play that could lead to a change in momentum.

With 16 minutes left, senior guard Tara Watts made her second three-pointer of the game, breaking the Rice career record for most three-pointers of 147. She ended up making two more in the game, ending her career with 150 total three-pointers.

"I'm just really happy," Watts said. "My dad told me this morning I needed one more to tie it. He actually sent me a Facebook message about it. He just got Facebook. It's embarrassing."

Heading into the final moments of the contest, the Owls took the lead by one on a three-pointer by Watts. UTEP regained the lead with 57 seconds left on a jump shot by senior guard and leading scorer Jareica Hughes. Hughes would make a free throw 35 seconds later to push the lead to two.

Rice would have one last shot at victory, when a last second foul put sophomore guard D'Frantz Smart on the line shooting two free throws. Smart made the first one, but the ball would not fall on the second, and Rice was unable to push the game into overtime. The final score was 62-61 in favor of UTEP.

The Owls played a solid second half, but were unable to capitalize on UTEP's mistakes. The Owls shot a blistering 77.8 percent from behind the arc, one of their best shooting halves of the season. Watts, Smart, and Stanley all contributed 14 to the losing effort, with Goswitz adding another 11. Stanley was proud of how her team battled.

"We played hard; we could have played better of course, but we played hard," Stanley said. "Our heart was in it. We all wanted to win."

Smart and Stanley were both also named third team All C-USA, with Rice one of the few teams in the conference to get two players named to All Conference teams. It was quite an honor for two players that still have time to grow and develop in the Rice program.

It was an exciting year and a year that saw a lot of growth and development inside the program. There is a strong foundation to build on for next year, with Williams hoping he can continue upon this year's success.

"It was a good building year for us," William said."It will be exciting to see this team continue to grow. It's going to be hard seeing our seniors go; they were me and my staff's first recruiting class here at Rice, but with some players coming off injury, and the talent we have coming back, we're poised for success.

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