Rice women’s basketball turned a third quarter deficit into their 16th consecutive victory, coming from behind to defeat North Texas and clinch the regular season CUSA Title.
For the first time since joining Conference USA, Rice women’s basketball are regular season conference champions. The Owls last achieved a regular season title in 2005 while members of the WAC, the only other conference title in program history.
To do it, Rice needed to stage a comeback. Trailing by three at halftime, the deficit grew to as many as seven before Rice thundered back. Nancy Mulkey led the charge with 24 points and three blocks. Nicole Iademarco connected on three triples and Erica Ogwumike grabbed six rebounds, three on the offensive glass. It was another all-around team effort, something Rice has come accustom to in recent weeks. They’d win by a final margin of 59-47.
Winning the regular season conference title secures Rice the top seed throughout the conference tournament. The first round bye is a plus, but the path beyond that is less important; the Owls’ resume speaks for itself. If they’re able to cut through their first batch of postseason games like they’ve been able to cruise through conference play, they’ll secure an automatic bid to the NCAA Tournament. Then the dance begins.
There are two kinds of teams the blue blood programs don’t want to face in the NCAA Tournament. Red-hot three-point shooting squads are scary — look at what 16-seed UMBC did to 1-seed Virginia on 12 made three-pointers while shooting 50 percent from deep. The second team is the defensive juggernaut: that’s Rice.
Defense travels. That’s the most intriguing, and at least to outsiders, the most terrifying aspect of this surging team. They’ve held every conference opponent but one, Marshall, to 51 points or fewer on their home court. That includes Western Kentucky (averaging 74 points per game), UAB (73.8) and most recently, North Texas (66.2). Rice is playing at an incredibly high level as the calendar approaches March. To this point, no other team in the conference has been able to keep up.