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Preview: #14 WBB travels to #3 LSU for first round of WBB National Championship

Rice women’s basketball players celebrate while watching Selection Sunday on March 17. No. 14 Rice will face No. 3 Louisiana State University on Friday. Kathleen Ortiz / Thresher

By Kathleen Ortiz     3/19/24 10:51pm

Rice women’s basketball head coach Lindsay Edmonds’ jaw dropped as her players, family and fans cheered and danced around her. The 14th-seeded Owls saw their name pop up on the big screen as the first-round opponent to No. 3 Louisiana State University in the NCAA Women’s Basketball Tournament.

After the initial shock wore off, Edmonds took her phone out and snapped a picture of the screen. Then, her mind immediately went to scouting the reigning national champions as she hugged graduate senior Destiny Jackson and junior Malia Fisher.

“No game was going to be easy,” Edmonds said. “They’re a talented team. They have a lot of players. Obviously [LSU head coach Kim] Mulkey is a hall of fame coach, but we’re going to go in, we’re going to give it our best shot and see where the chips may fall.”

The Owls went 9-9 this season, in their first year in the American Athletic Conference. They won their conference tournament to secure a spot in March Madness for the first time since 2019. Prior to the AAC tournament, though, Rice had lost five conference games in a row.

“We could have helped ourself a little bit in the regular season and finished out some games the way we were capable of finishing them out, but without those skids I don’t know if we play with the same fire in the tournament that we played with to get the win,” Edmonds said. “It’s kind of a tradeoff. If you win all those games, are you as hungry to get the championship? I don’t know.”

The team’s hunger for a championship began before the season ever started. Juniors Sussy Ngulefac and Emily Klaczek, a center and a guard, respectively, said a conference championship was always on their minds when they transferred to Rice this year. Ngulefac transferred from Samford and Klaczek from the University of Alabama at Birmingham. Ngulefac led the Owls with 15 points in the AAC Championship game against East Carolina University. Klaczek finished with 14 points.

“I remember after the AAC win, me and coach hugged each other and said, ‘This is exactly what we wanted,’” Klaczek said.

Ngulefac, Klaczek and the rest of the team had to step up more than expected in the tournament after sophomore standout Dominique Ennis suffered a season-ending injury in the quarterfinal game against the University of North Texas. 

“I think our team is deep, I think we’re prepared for this and I think we just needed someone else to step up,” Edmonds said. “No one has to be Dominique Ennis, but everyone needs to be a better version of themself, and I thought they did that.”

No matter the circumstances, Edmonds continued to repeat how excited she was to be playing in March. The first round of March Madness will take place Friday, March 22, at the Pete Maravich Assembly Center in Baton Rouge, La., about a four-hour drive from Rice’s campus. Rice Athletics is providing free bus transportation to the game, departing 9 a.m. on Friday morning from Tudor Fieldhouse and returning after the game ends. Tickets for the game are available separately, on sale at lsusports.evenue.net and SeatGeek

“I told someone earlier, ‘As long as there’s a ball and a court and an opponent and Rice women’s basketball is still in the game, I am fired up no matter what,’” Edmonds said. “That stands true, so we have to get back to film and get that figured out. We’ll take it one day at a time.”

[3/21/2024 4:43 p.m.] This article was updated to include information about Rice Athleticsfree bus transportation to Baton Rouge, La.

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