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‘They weren’t afraid of the stage’: Owls fall 70-60 to LSU in close March Madness opener


Fifth year guard Destiny Jackson looks toward the net as she dribbles up the court in the NCAA Women’s Basketball Tournament on Friday, March 22. Jackson’s last game with the Rice Owls was a 70-60 loss in March Madness to the defending champions Louisiana State University.

Courtesy Rice Athletics

By Kathleen Ortiz     3/26/24 11:39pm

In an arena with more than double the capacity of Tudor Fieldhouse, Rice women’s basketball forward Malia Fisher admitted that at one point the Pete Maravich Assembly Center in Baton Rouge, La., was so loud she couldn’t hear herself think.

“It was a different environment, but you get used to it fast and then you just kind of acknowledge it and put it out of your mind,” Fisher, a junior, said. “That’s what we did.”

Rice adjusted to the new arena quickly, and Fisher said there was never a moment she felt overwhelmed in Baton Rouge. Fifth-year guard Destiny Jackson said she even enjoyed the noise on the court.

“We’re basketball players,” Jackson said. “We came to work. We came to fight no matter who we’re playing. Just ready to get after it, and I think we did that.”

Rice lost 70-60 to the defending national champions Louisiana State University on March 22 to end their season. Despite their loss, the Owls kept the game close, forcing 24 LSU turnovers and outscoring LSU in the second and fourth quarters. 

Rice surprised many on basketball’s biggest stage with a roster that will return all but one starter.

“I thought we did a lot of great things, but the main thing that I’m proud of is that we never for one second quit or looked like we didn’t believe that we belonged in this game,” head coach Lindsay Edmonds said.

Despite FanDuel Sportsbook having LSU as a 28.5-point favorite and the fact that 14 seeds have never won a game in the NCAA Women’s Basketball Tournament, Rice was never down by more than 11. They trailed 30-27 at halftime. 

Edmonds said she couldn’t have been more proud of her young team. 

“They weren’t afraid of that moment,” Edmonds said. “They weren’t afraid of the stage. And I think we represented Rice on a national stage really, really well.”

Edmonds has led the Owls to three winning seasons in her first three years at the school. This postseason run to an AAC tournament title and berth to the NCAA Tournament will likely have lasting effects with so many players returning. 

“Remember this feeling,” Edmonds said to her team in the locker room. “Remember what it felt like to get here, but next year we want to go further. We want to go a step further.”

Next year, Edmonds’ goal is for the Owls to enter the NCAA Tournament with a higher seed. Less than an hour after the Owls lost to LSU, Edmonds said that summer workouts and preseason will be harder for the 2024-25 season.

“We’ve already started talking about that and I think everybody’s going to be hungry to get back,” Edmonds said. “We are losing a big piece with [Destiny Jackson], but we have everybody else coming back and we signed a great freshman class as well. Excited for what the year can look like.”

Jackson, Rice’s leading scorer, graduates in May, but the rest of Friday’s starting lineup were juniors, including Fisher, Sussy Ngulefac, Emily Klaczek and Trinity Gooden. 

Ngulefac, a center who transferred this season from Samford University, played against LSU as a freshman. In her first game against the Tigers, Ngulefac led Samford with 18 points. In Friday’s game against LSU, Ngulefac scored 10.

“[Ngulefac] came in with the right mindset already knowing that she could hang with them and play with them,” Fisher said. “I think she rubbed off a lot on us. Her abilities are unmatched and playing with her and for her it just makes me go even harder. I’m so proud to call her my teammate.”

Edmonds continues to build her teams to compete further than the year before, and while LSU ended Rice’s 2024 season, Edmonds and Rice are already planning for next year’s.

“We definitely made a statement,” Ngulefac said. “A lot of people thought we weren’t going to be able to hang on, so I think we’re proud, everyone’s proud, and I’m really proud of this team.”

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