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Owls WBB soar to top of AAC with two more road wins

Sophomore guard Dominique Ennis looks to pass the ball in the Owls’ weekend win over Tulane University. Ennis and the Owls WBB team are tied for first in the AAC in their inaugural season in the conference. Courtesy Rice Athletics

By Andersen Pickard     1/23/24 10:07pm

A strong start to the 2023-24 season continues for the Rice women’s basketball team, which won two more games last week and is tied for the best conference record in the American Athletic Conference standings.

Fresh off a back-and-forth 67-64 win Jan. 14 against the University of South Florida, Rice hit the road for two more games against AAC foes. Rice hasn’t lost a road game against an unranked opponent since Nov. 25.

The Owls’ current road trip began on Wednesday, Jan. 17, against East Carolina University. The game tipped off at 11 a.m. Eastern, but Rice didn’t show any signs of early-morning fatigue. They went on an 8-0 run to take the lead early in the first quarter, then added another 7-0 run at the end of the period to lead 22-13.

Fifth-year senior guard Destiny Jackson and sophomore guard Dominique Ennis both hit three-pointers to open the second quarter and extended Rice’s margin. A 13-2 ECU run near the end of the half wasn’t nearly enough, leaving the Owls up 43-33 at halftime. 

Rice continued to control the second half, maintaining a double-digit lead for most of the period. The Owls demonstrated their advantage on both the offensive and defensive side of the ball, converting all seven of their free throws in the half while simultaneously holding ECU to 13% from three. 

The second half ran through Ennis, whose 11 points and two rebounds in the frame led the Owls to an 80-67 victory. She finished the game as Rice’s leading scorer.

Head coach Lindsay Edmonds said she was proud of her team’s toughness and cohesion against ECU, explaining that they prevailed despite an early tipoff and a raucous crowd.

“To be on the road for an 11 o’clock tip, I’m just so proud of the toughness we showed and togetherness we showed,” Edmonds said. “There were thousands of people in here, kids screaming against us, and all that mattered was what we had. We were enough together and I’m so proud of this group.”

Rice traveled to New Orleans for a game against Tulane University three days later. Like in their matchup against the Pirates, the Owls had their foot on the gas pedal from the start, outscoring the Green Wave 23-14 in the first quarter. Jackson and junior forward Malia Fisher scored eight points each in the opening quarter, with the former hitting both of her three-pointers while the latter secured a pair of rebounds.

Points proved hard to come by in the second quarter as Rice and Tulane shot a combined 7-for-23. The Owls, however, dominated the boards by grabbing 11 rebounds compared to Tulane’s four. Rice entered halftime with a 32-21 advantage.

After the game, Edmonds praised her team’s play for the first 10 minutes of the game but acknowledged “we had a little bit of a lull in the second.”

Tulane came out of the locker room rejuvenated for the second half and threatened to chip away at their deficit, shooting 6-for-16 with 10 rebounds and one steal. However, Rice outperformed their AAC opponent, shooting 6-for-15 and hitting all four of their free throws. Fisher had a strong quarter defensively, contributing four steals.

“I thought we responded really, really well in the third quarter,” Edmonds said. “We pushed through that fatigue that we were experiencing a little bit and got it done.”

Much like the second quarter, the fourth quarter was low-scoring and defense oriented. While the Owls only scored 11 points, their focus was on slowing down the Green Wave and silencing any chance at a comeback. Rice allowed just nine points in the frame as Tulane shot 31% overall and 20% from beyond the arc. Junior guard Maya Bokunewicz ensured the Owls would hold on to their lead as she contributed four points, four rebounds and one steal while playing all 10 minutes in the fourth quarter.

As the final buzzer sounded, Rice left the court with another double-digit road win, 61-44. Edmonds came away impressed by her team’s continued success away from Tudor Fieldhouse.

“Winning is hard and winning on the road is even harder, and in back-to-back road games is really hard,” Edmonds said. “I’m proud of our young ladies and their toughness and togetherness.”

The victory vaulted the Owls to the top of the AAC less than one month after their conference debut. At 5-1 in AAC play, Rice joins the University of North Texas and the University of Alabama at Birmingham in a three-way tie atop the conference. 

Rice could break that tie as early as Wednesday, Jan. 24, when they conclude their road trip against the University of Tulsa. The Owls will look to win their fourth consecutive game, but Tulsa represents a significant challenge. The Golden Hurricanes are 14-5 overall and 4-2 against conference opponents. They are also protective of their court, having won seven of eight home matchups. This game tips off at 6:30 p.m. on ESPN+.

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