Women split games, remain in middle of pack
With only one senior on the roster, Head Coach Greg Williams should probably be pleased with his team's standing in the middle of Conference USA - but he isn't. He knows they are one or two big wins away from launching themselves into a serious talk about a deep postseason run, and he isn't relenting until they get there. Six games into the conference schedule, the Owls are an even 3-3 in C-USA but are certainly poised to jump into the top slots. The Owls had a chance last weekend to put themselves into a tie for third at the top with two conference games but only managed to find a split.
Rice traveled to the University of Texas-El Paso (11-7, 3-3 C-USA) last Thursday night, only to be dealt a tough defeat in one of the most hostile atmospheres of any C-USA arena.
The Owls played well in the first half, going into the locker room only down one point. The Miners came out firing in the second half, scoring 48 in the second half, capped off by an 11-3 streak in the closing minutes.
Six UTEP players scored in double figures, compared to two Owls - freshman forward Jessica Kuster and senior forward Morgan Mayse. Kuster was one rebound away from another double-double.
On Sunday, the Owls returned home to Tudor Fieldhouse, needing a win to keep their middle-of-the-pack status. A struggling University of Alabama-Birmingham (9-10, 1-5 C-USA) team arrived in Houston, hoping to up their total of one conference win.
UAB almost managed to catch the Owls sleeping, as the Blazers took the lead in the first half and did not give it back until junior guard D'Frantz Smart hit a three-pointer on one foot at the buzzer for the half. It was a tough start for the Owls, who were hoping to get out to an early start and quickly put the Blazers away.
The Owls were plagued by bad shooting, only making a paltry 29 percent compared to UAB's 44 percent. Smart led with eight points, and sophomore guard Jessica Goswitz chipped in seven to start the game off for Rice.
Rice scored the first five points of the second half, thanks to Mayse's jumpshots, moving the lead out to 29-23. A few minutes later, the Owls had a 38-27 lead, slowly pushing UAB out of the game. UAB closed the lead to three with 24 seconds left, but clutch free-throw shooting provided the Owls with the 58-52 win.
Smart ended the game with 16 points, her first time in double digits since the Texas A&M University game on Nov. 20. Kuster recorded an impressive 20 rebounds, tied for the third-highest ever in a Rice women's basketball game.
Smart was pleased to break out of her slump.
"The coaches talked to me and said, "Shoot the ball,'" she said.
"That's what I've come in and been focused on. It gave me confidence, and the ball started rolling in. Once you make one or two, the balls start rolling in a lot."
Next week, the Owls play a huge Thursday night game against Tulane University (16-3, 5-1 C-USA), one of the top teams in C-USA. Weekday road games are always difficult, and this will surely be no exception. The defending conference champions returned their entire roster from last season.
Sunday, the Owls welcome in the University of Tulsa (5-8, 1-4 C-USA), a team they beat earlier in the season in Oklahoma. While it should be a victory for the Owls, they need to be careful not to have another post-Thursday breakdown in the opening minutes of the Sunday afternoon contest.
"We have a tough weekend with the Tulane game," Williams said. "They play a very small, quick lineup that doesn't match up well with many teams in the league, including us. We also need to watch out for the trap game on Sunday and make sure that we're mentally ready to play.
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