Women’s basketball bounced from NIT by Oregon in second round
Photo courtesy Rice Athletics
The Rice women’s basketball team couldn’t replicate their 2021 Women’s National Invitational Tournament title run this time around, falling in the second round to the University of Oregon. The Owls kicked off their tournament with a 71-67 win over Brigham Young University on Friday and looked to be on their way towards a second straight road victory on Monday before a relentless third-quarter push by the Ducks gave the hosts a comfortable 78-53 win. Despite the loss, head coach Lindsay Edmonds said she was proud of her team for holding their own in the second most important postseason tournament in the sport.
“There weren’t many teams still playing tonight and for us to be one of them, I am extremely proud,” Edmonds said.
Oregon started the game on an 11-3 run, but a late Owl push closed the gap to one by the start of the second quarter. Less than 30 seconds into the quarter, a mid-range shot from sophomore forward Malia Fisher gave Rice their first lead of the night. Just over two minutes later, a Fisher three and a basket by senior guard Katelyn Crosthwait extended that lead to four, the largest it would be all night. After the game, Edmonds said that she was impressed with how her team responded to Oregon’s early run.
“We were tough and we had an answer for everything,” Edmonds said. “They made a run, we went on one. They hit a shot, we hit one right back. We never hung our heads in the first half.”
From there, the Owls’ offense went cold. Rice didn’t score for nearly five minutes, while two quick Oregon threes gave the Ducks the lead. Rice’s offense reappeared in the closing minutes of the half, and five late points limited the damage, but the Owls still went into the half down by three. According to Edmonds, the Owls had to do nearly everything right to hang with such a good team in such a difficult road environment.
“When you go into a game like this and face an opponent as good as Oregon is, on their court, in front of their fans, your margin of error is really small,” Edmonds said. “We played an amazing 20 minutes of basketball in the first half despite them starting the game with an impressive run.”
After a scoreless first minute, the Ducks scored six points in a 42-second span to take a commanding lead. Rice closed the gap to three but a 16-2 Oregon run ended the quarter and effectively ended the Owls’ season as well. According to Edmonds, when the Ducks started to press, it changed the course of the game.
“They turned up their pressure, they started pressing us, they turned up their physicality on the defensive end and they were switching a lot on our screens,” Edmonds said. “We unfortunately struggled with the pressure and physicality, and we just weren’t getting as good of looks on the offensive end.”
The loss comes three days after the Owls topped BYU in Provo, UT to open the tournament. Coming off of an earlier-than-expected loss in the quarterfinals of the Conference USA tournament, the Owls jumped out to an early lead before fighting off a late Cougar push to earn Edmonds the first WNIT win of her career.
With the season over, Edmonds will now turn her attention to the 2023-24 campaign, Rice’s first in the American Athletic Conference. As of now, the team expects to lose five seniors, including their first and third leading scorers in forwards Ashlee Austin and India Bellamy, with guard Destiny Jackson, the team’s leader in assists, being the only senior expected to return. Edmonds, who went 23-9 in her second season at the helm, said that she hopes the WNIT loss fuels a postseason push next year.
“I’m proud of our season and of what we were able to accomplish together,” Edmonds said. “I hope that our returners take note of how this feels and [make] it our driving force every day in the offseason, summer and preseason so that next season we are playing even longer.”
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