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Rice women’s basketball enjoying early success in first AAC season

Fifth-year guard Destiny Jackson shoots during Rice’s Jan. 11 game against the University of North Carolina at Charlotte. The Owls lost 61-54. Courtesy Rice Athletics

By Andersen Pickard     1/16/24 9:32pm

Changing conferences and playing a home game in a different arena aren’t easy for any team, but Rice women’s basketball has prevailed through this adversity, kicking off the new year with a 3-1 run in the American Athletic Conference.

The Owls made their AAC debut Jan. 3, using a big third quarter to fuel their victory over Wichita State University. Sophomore Dominique Ennis led the way with 17 points, four rebounds and four steals while sinking four of 10 three-point attempts. This game was played at the University of Houston’s Fertitta Center after Rice’s venue, Tudor Fieldhouse, sustained water damage during a construction mishap.

Rice went on the road Jan. 7, taking down the Southern Methodist University Mustangs. The Owls carried a 31-23 lead into the second half and managed to win by two points after SMU’s comeback attempt fell just short.

The Owls returned to Tudor Jan. 11 against the University of North Carolina at Charlotte, which ranked atop the standings with a 3-0 conference record at the time. Faced with an opportunity to become the AAC’s top team, Rice faltered. They led by two points at halftime but were ultimately outscored in the second half, falling to Charlotte 61-54.

Missed opportunities from beyond the arc spelled disaster for Rice in their first AAC loss as the starting lineup went 0-for-13 from three. Ennis’ struggles headlined a challenging night for the Owls as she missed six threes herself while being held to three rebounds and zero assists. She and fifth-year teammate Destiny Jackson each finished with 12 points while junior Malia Fisher added 14.

“It’s not the brand of basketball we want to put on the court,” head coach Lindsay Edmonds said after the game. “We missed a bunch of bunnies and unfortunately, we weren’t able to get to the free throw line at the rate they [did]. We forced 29 turnovers but then we’re not translating those into points.”

Edmonds believed her team’s struggles were influenced by the temporary relocation to the Fertitta Center and sudden return back to Tudor Fieldhouse.

“We haven’t played here since Dec. 16. We haven’t practiced here since Dec. 29. It really almost felt like another away game for us,” Edmonds said. “It’s been a long time since we’ve been able to be on the court. I think it resulted in our shooting percentage tonight.”

Edmonds hinted that the Owls would bounce back in a competitive fashion against the University of South Florida during their next game on Jan. 14, and she was right. Rice went on the road and won a back-and-forth battle against the Bulls. The Owls trailed by two points at halftime but fought for a 67-64 victory after outscoring USF 22-15 in the fourth quarter. 

Rice combined for six points off turnovers in the final quarter; South Florida had zero.

Fisher was a key reason why Rice played such strong basketball in the final period, Edmonds and Ennis agreed postgame. She added 12 points, six rebounds, one block and one steal in the fourth quarter alone, going a perfect 8-for-8 on free throws. The junior standout finished with 23 points and 12 rebounds.

When asked what sparked her late run, Fisher cited her desire to win the game for the Owls. 

“My decisiveness to have the ball in my hands and take over the game,” Fisher said. “I know I’m a good player, everybody knows I’m a good player. Get the ball and make plays for my teammates.”

Ennis also bounced back after her quiet outing on Thursday. Against the Bulls, she delivered 16 points, shooting 2-for-4 from beyond the arc while hitting all four of her free throws. Meanwhile, Jackson added five rebounds and six assists. 

Edmonds was impressed by her team’s ability to shake off the frustrating loss to Charlotte and defeat a talented conference opponent on the road.

“We could’ve come in here feeling sorry for ourselves, but we didn’t,” Edmonds said. “We bounced back in a big way and showed how dominant we can be, how impressive we can be, how deep we are. [I am] just really proud of the grit and determination this group showed.”

The Owls now own a 3-1 conference record, which ranks fourth among 14 teams in the AAC. They remain on the road for three more conference games, starting with a matchup against East Carolina University on Jan. 17 at 10 a.m. Rice won’t return home until Jan. 27 when they play the University of Memphis. 

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