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Friday, June 09, 2023 — Houston, TX

Women go 1-1 against conference bottom-feeders

By Teddy Grodek     1/20/11 6:00pm

All it took to fall back into the pack was a few missed shots and some unforced turnovers. The women's basketball team, which has taken large strides this season, just cannot seem to win those big games that could earn the team its place among the Conference USA's most elite programs. The Owls, lumped into the middle of the standings beginning the weekend, had two conference games that could have started talk around the league about the possible successes of the team. They welcomed Marshall University into Tudor on Thursday and then traveled to East Carolina University on Sunday afternoon, two very winnable games for the young team.

Sitting on a winning record and an opening week split, two wins would have put Rice in a tie for third inside C-USA. On the shoulders of freshman forward Jessica Kuster, Rice was in the best position for success in recent years.

The ladies struggled at the start against Marshall (5-11, 1-3 C-USA), falling 19-9 in the first 10 minutes. Those 19 points matched nearly half of Marshall's scoring total for the rest of the game, however, as the Rice defense shut down the Thundering Herd's offensive attempts.

Rice gained the lead in the closing minutes of the first and would not give it away again, sending Marshall packing with a final score of 52-39.

Junior forward Brianna Hypolite led the Owls with 15 points, followed by Kuster, who added 12 points and eight rebounds. Junior point guard D'Frantz Smart had a fantastic game kick-starting the Owls offense, contributing nine assists.

The Owls, with all the momentum on their side, and on the cusp of breaking into the upper half of the league Sunday at ECU (7-10, 1-3 C-USA), fell behind in the closing minutes.

The game was close before Kuster got hot and scored eight straight points. From there, the game continued to ebb and flow, with 15 lead changes throughout, leaving Rice with a two-point lead with four minutes left.

Rice fell behind on an ECU three-pointer and had to resort to fouling, resulting in a 10-0 ECU run that put the game out of reach. It was a heartbreaking 66-55 loss for the Owls, who looked like they were poised to get a key conference road win.

Assistant Coach Kim Mbadinga- Nzamba felt that the team looked good, despite the loss.

"We missed some shots; we had some unforced turnovers," Mbadinga-Nzamba said. "It was a tough one. But you know what, our girls played well; we're going to win some basketball games. We just need to learn not to let a lead slip away."

Kuster led the Owls with 16 points and 16 rebounds, another double-double for the freshman. Hypolite contributed 14 points and eight rebounds in the win, with senior forward Morgan Mayse contributing another 12 points.

For her efforts over the week, Kuster was awarded her sixth C-USA Freshman of the Week award, a new C-USA record.

Rice traveled to the University of Texas-El Paso (10-6, 2-2 C-USA) last night and will welcome the University of Alabama-Birmingham (9-8, 1-3 C-USA) Sunday afternoon. Both teams are physical teams with size and will look to slow down the Owls' uptempo game.

"We're right there at .500: If we can get to 4-2, we'll be in great shape," Hypolite said. "We're really at the point where the conference standings start to solidify, and it's hard to make up ground in this league. If we have hopes of being at the top, we need both of these games.

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