Women post strong record over winter break
It is a good season for a freshman if she can make an immediate impact on the court, helping her team win games. It is a great season for a freshman if she can earn Player of the Week honors and work her way into the starting lineup. It's an unbelievable season if she can win five freshman Player of the Week awards; a feat only seen one other time inside Conference USA. With senior starting forward and team leader Jackie Stanley out with a knee injury, Head Coach Greg Williams (Hanszen '70) knew that someone on his roster would have to fill the void. Little did he expect that help to come in the form of a freshman - 6'2" Jessica Kuster - who is leading the team in rebounds and second on the team in points, which is just what the Owls needed to stay above .500 despite the injuries to their star.
"I was really excited the first time I won it; it was really an honor," said Kuster. "But now, I just really want to help our team keep winning. These awards are nice, but I just hope I can keep contributing."
It has been an up-and-down break for the Owls. After a tough loss against a good University of Arkansas-Little Rock (10-5, 4-0) team, the Owls snapped off a three-game winning streak, moving their record to an impressive 8-5. They then fell to Lamar University (12-4), just before opening their conference schedule against UCF (9-2, 2-0 C-USA), a good basketball team with a fast offense.
The Owls survived a first half scoring attack to take a lead in the second, only to watch their lead slowly disintegrate as UCF made eight of 10 free throws to put the nail in the coffin. Rice fell 81-68 despite Kuster and junior forward Brianna Hypolite each contributing 10 points.
Next, the Owls traveled to Tulsa, Okla. to take on the University of Tulsa (4-6 0-2) in an important game. The Owls needed to beat a bad C-USA team to stay in the pack competing for a C-USA Championship berth.
The Owls did what they needed to do, getting off to a fast start by making five of the first eight shots to go up 17-11, after sophomore guard Jessica Goswitz added two free throws. Tulsa then turned the tide in the game, countering with 13 unanswered points to move to 24-17.
Despite a 30-28 lead heading into halftime, Williams was still upset with his team losing the early lead and hoped they would respond to pressure better in the second half. They did, going on a 13-4 run to put the score at 53-44. The Golden Hurricane were not able to respond and let the Owls out of Oklahoma with the win by a final score of 61-53.
"It was key to get our first conference win; it really means a lot," Williams said. "Especially because we've traditionally struggled on the road, especially at a tough place to play like Tulsa, we really needed this one. Losing would've put us in a must-win conference game in our third of the season."
Kuster would have posted another double-double - her fifth of the season - with 17 points and 15 rebounds. Hypolite contributed 15 and senior forward Morgan Mayse contributed 14.
This next weekend, the Owls play at Tudor Fieldhouse, taking on Marshall University (5-9, 1-1 C-USA) on Thursday. They then travel to North Carolina to take on East Carolina University (6-9, 0-2 C-USA), one of the worst teams inside C-USA.
Both are extremely winnable games, which, if won, have the potential to push Rice into the upper echelon of the C-USA standings.
"We have to keep playing well and keep playing the entire game," Williams said. "This will be a big weekend for us and a true test of where we sit in the conference.
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