Women prepare for tournament
After a couple of tough losses, the Rice women's basketball team still heads to the Conference USA tournament in El Paso in a great position - sitting on a first round bye and avoiding a potential matchup with powerhouse Houston until the final game. The Owls, going into the last few weeks of the season, needed to win one game of the next three to clinch a first-round bye, an important few days off for a team at the end of a long season. They had games against three of the very best teams in C-USA: Tulane, Houston and Southern Methodist University - all of which could earn byes inside the tournament.
The first game against Tulane looked good for the Owls, as they had opened up an 11-point lead with only five minutes left, with Jessica Kuster helping by scoring 23. Tulane would hold the Owls scoreless for the last two minutes of the game, however, and mount an incredible comeback, making shots from seemingly every corner of the court.
Brianna Hypolite, who has been hot as of late, missed a last-second three that could have tied the game at 80, resulting in an Owls' foul and a final score of 82-77.
The next weekend, Rice welcomed the nationally-ranked University of Houston Cougars to town, a definite NCAA tournament team at this point.
The Owls dominated the Cougars in the first half, jumping out to a 9-0 lead, clearly ready to play in the primetime. Rice would enjoy a 39-20 lead in the closing minute of the half, making the Cougar offense look inferior to the Rice shooting attack.
Everything would change suddenly when the teams came out of the locker room, as the Cougars outscored Rice 17 to seven in the first five minutes of the second half.
Rice was unable to stop the Cougars, who cut Rice's lead to five points with five minutes left in the game. At the 1:50 mark, the Cougars took their first lead of the game, and Houston hit four straight free throws-sealing the game at 74-70.
It would be a crushing blow for the Owls, who surely hope that they will get a second chance against the Cougars in the postseason.
Finally, in the last game of the season against Southern Methodist University, the Owls had to get a win to be able to sit out the first round and have an easier trip to the finals.
The first half would be a battle of runs, with both teams frequently changing as the leader in the opening minutes. Rice started out the second half well, moving out to a 38-30 lead and never looking back. Rice made the necessary free-throws, ending the game with 11 straight points off them, to put the game away at 73-63.
The Owls played the University of Memphis yesterday in El-Paso, a team they beat by 13 in Memphis, Tenn. earlier in the season. They will play again today if they win, with the potential championship game being tomorrow.
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