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Women's Basketball 2010: Talented young guards look to be emotional leaders for team; Owls need frontcourt to step up in order to move up in C-USA

By Teddy Grodek     11/11/10 6:00pm

Women's basketball Head Coach Greg Williams (Hanszen '73) knows the expectations that his team faces this season, with a core group of returning players that began playing up to their full potential at times, while lapsing at others. They were young last year and are still relatively young compared to some of the other teams in Conference USA, but that should not stop the Owls from competing for a conference title and an NCAA tournament berth."Our team goal this year is to do better than last year," junior guard D'Frantz Smart said. "My biggest thing this year is winning road games. We kind of struggled last year, and hopefully that won't happen this year."

The Owls' 2009-2010 campaign was a story of two teams - the one that played on the road and the one that played at home. The team that played at Tudor Fieldhouse had a fantastic year, going 11-3 with a 6-2 mark inside C-USA, taking down some powerhouses along the way.

The team that played on the road showed their immaturity and youth, going 2-11 and often getting badly out-rebounded while shooting the ball abysmally. It just didn't click away from Tudor, with the Owls normally digging themselves into a first-half hole that they simply could not climb out of.

If the Owls are going to end up with a winning record and a chance of a deep run come the C-USA tournament, they will have to play as well on the road as they do at home.

The Guards

The backcourt is perhaps the deepest part of the Owls' roster and provides Williams with a nucleus of players that can jumpstart the offense. Three-point shooting was a constant in the Owls' wins last season, largely thanks to departing senior Tara Watts (Jones '10), whose presence will be missed around the arc.

Smart will lead the way for the Owls, handling the ball while also providing the Owls with a penetration force. She led the Owls in minutes and assists last season and was second on the team in points. Smart is the emotional leader of the Owls, and a large part of their success this season will be based on her ability to handle the pressure that comes with that territory.

Returning for her sophomore season is shooting guard Jessica Goswitz, who stepped up in her freshman season to become a staple of the Owls' lineup, starting all but three games and averaging eight points a game. Look for Goswitz, who can defend as well as she shoots, to begin to play more of a leadership role this season. Of concern is her ankle, which gave her problems for the second half of last season and will hopefully not be a reoccurring injury.

Guard Memri Carmon is the wildcard of the team, coming back for her junior season after a medical redshirt in 2009-2010. She will look to make her impact on the backcourt, providing Williams with a reliable backup to both Goswitz and Smart. Carmon definitely has the potential to play a large role on the team, but her role will ultimately depend on how she rebounds from the year off.

Also backing up Smart and Goswitz will be junior guard Amenemope' McKinney, who had a respectable sophomore season. She saw plenty of minutes coming off the bench and provides Rice with a guard who can slash inside the paint, giving a bigger look when necessary. Freshman Brittany Carter will also fight for playing time in a loaded backcourt and will be ready in case the injury bug bites the Owls once again.

The Forwards

If Rice is to take its team into the upper echelons of C-USA, its forward play has to step up from where it was last year, with more bodies helping junior forward Jackie Stanley in the paint.

The leader of this unit is Morgan Mayse, the lone senior on the team, who will look to repeat her performance last year. Mayse, while not as flashy as the guards of the team, certainly was a workhorse, averaging six rebounds and eight points a game. She started every game last season and also provides the Owls with another outside presence if she can get the ball behind the three-point arc.

Looking to step into a larger role this season, juniors Brianna Hypolite and Megan Elliott will try to win over Williams' trust. Elliott, who saw three starts last year, will need to become a larger scoring threat for the Owls, while Hypolite needs to work on hitting the boards. Expect either player to emerge this winter after productive summers.

Also at forward for the Owls are sophomore Zoe Rogers, redshirt freshman Lacey Neu and freshman Jessica Kuster, all of whom could emerge into consistent players for Williams.

"Jessica Kuster has come in from day one and has shown that she can really play at this level," Williams said. "We're playing her a lot at the wing. She's going to play a lot. She's shown she is a very active player, a very versatile player."

The Centers

This position is anchored by Stanley, the statistical leader of the team. She led the team in points and rebounds last season, recording several double-doubles. While not listed on the roster as a center, she plays the position more often than not in William's offense, using her height and great post moves to slash at opposing defenses. Look for the junior transfer to emerge as one of the best players inside the conference and to combine with Smart to lead the Owls this year.

Also in the center position are junior Candace Ashford and sophomore Opal Taskila, both of whom will have to fight for minutes backing up Stanley. Stanley's knees are a concern, so fans should not be surprised if Williams has call on the pair at times in the season to start, especially on days with back-to-back games. Ashford emerged during the summer as the favorite to back up Stanley when she is having issues with her knee, which was operated on this summer.

The Schedule

The Owls' schedule is not quite as punishing as it was last year and has a lot of very winnable games, hopefully resulting in a strong final record for their resume. They start out the season playing three games in three days, capped off by a Sunday afternoon road game against Big 12 foe Baylor University, currently ranked second in the nation.

The Owls then bring two in-state opponents, Stephen F. Austin University and Texas A&M University, into Tudor before heading for a tournament in Atlanta, Ga., which appears winnable on paper. They then come back home for two before a four-game road stretch, capped off by a game in San Marcos, Texas at Texas State University.

Conference play, which consumes the rest of the Owls' schedule, opens up in January against the University of Central Florida.

"In our conference last year, we moved up from 12th to seventh," Williams said. "But most of the teams in our league are also returning the bulk of their teams. The conference is going to be very competitive, as it has been. We've had five different champions in five years. You have to look at UCF, [East Carolina University] and, of course, [the University of] Houston. You also can't forget [the University of] Memphis."

Look for Rice to be able to start the schedule out strong, hopefully having a winning record heading into conference play. The back part of the schedule is much more difficult, and will be the Owls' true test this season.

Williams knows the talent is there this year; he just has to hope the maturity will follow it. For the team to be a legitimate force inside C-USA, it will have to move past some of the growing pains it faced last season and will have to play consistent basketball every night.

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