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Friday, September 30, 2022 — Houston, TX

Women move into tie for second in conference

By Teddy Grodek     2/10/11 6:00pm

In a conference known for its parity among the 12 schools, the women's basketball team has not won four straight regular season conference games since 2007, a large reason for its Conference USA struggles the last few years. It is hard to rise above .500 - and gain any traction in the standings - if it is impossible to string together victories. The Owls had the chance to get their fourth straight win this weekend, as Southern Methodist University (11-11, 4-5 C-USA), a team in the middle of the pack in the C-USA, came to town. In the last two weeks, the Owls' three straight wins had catapulted them into third in the conference, leaving people talking about the young team that had started playing like seasoned veterans.

SMU, a frequent power in C-USA, had been having a bumpy season, resulting in a .500 overall record. However, the team was better than it appeared, and Rice knew it was one of the largest remaining challenges on their schedule.

The first half lived up to the team's expectations, as both sides were tied 24-24 with about five minutes left in the half. The Owls got hot, going on a 9-2 run, including five points from freshman forward Jessica Kuster, leaving the score at 33-26 in Rice's favor as the teams headed into the locker room.

Halftime came at a bad time for the Owls, who had trouble playing up to the new pace of the Mustangs in the second half, spurring a 16-6 SMU run and causing the Owls to lose their lead.

Rice regained its composure, however, and shot 43 percent from the field in the second half. The Owls then had their own 16-6 run, leaving them with a 55-48 lead heading into the closing minutes.

Despite a comeback attempt from the Ponies, junior forward Brianna Hypolite hit two clutch jump shots that ended any chance of a Mustang comeback, sealing the game at 69-60 and bringing the Owls' record to 14-9 overall and 6-3 in conference play. It was another big win for the Owls, who have been playing better than any Rice basketball team in recent memory.

Kuster, who was awarded her eighth C-USA Freshman of the Week award for her efforts, recorded another double-double, scoring 22 points and recording 17 rebounds. At this point, she has all but locked up the Freshman of the Year award in C-USA and has to be considered among the conference's top players.

"There was something different I felt that night - I felt better than I have lately," Kuster said. "We all knew it was a really big game and got really excited when we saw the TV cameras. We all need to keep playing this well; it's really exciting to hear our name mentioned as one of the best in the conference."

Also scoring in double digits were Hypolite, junior guard D'Frantz Smart and junior center Candace Ashford. The Owls cleaned up the glass as well, outrebounding the Mustangs 50 to 38.

Despite the huge win and moving into a tie for second place in C-USA, Rice has its toughest weekend of the year, as it traveled across town yesterday to take on league-leading University of Houston (18-4, 9-0 C-USA). The Owls then have to travel to Memphis, Tenn. to take on the University of Memphis (18-6, 6-3 C-USA), the team Rice is currently tied with for second in the standings.

The Cougars, undefeated in the conference, are the clear favorites to win the conference tournament and claim a NCAA tournament berth. The Owls are playing well but will have to play their best game of the season to be able to hang with the Cougars.

"Our team has a lot of confidence right now after our wins, certainly some of the most I've seen since I've been here," Head Coach Greg Williams said. "But Houston is a great team. They have four legitimate all first-team players right now. They have last year's player of the year who will probably repeat. This is a really important week for us. We've been playing really well on the road, though, so I know we can win these games.

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