Rice women’s basketball clinched a berth in the Conference USA Tournament Championship Game, coming from behind to beat Western Kentucky.
Few teams have tested Rice like Western Kentucky did on Friday night. The 1-seed had just dispatched North Texas by 19 the day before, but looked almost mortal through the first half of the semifinal against the Hilltoppers. The Owls watched their opponents go on a 15-0 run, erasing a 5-point advantage and putting the tournament favorites in a 10-point hole.
Rice could have stumbled through the rest of that arduous second quarter. Instead they rallied, cutting the deficit to five points by the halftime buzzer. Back within reach, the second half was an entirely different story.
Conference USA Player of the Year Erica Ogwumike took over. Jasmine Smith drilled a three to give Rice the lead on the final shot of the third quarter, then it really was all Owls.
Rice went on an 11-0 run, pulling away down the stretch. At one point, Ogwumike had made 10 straight points for the Owls who kept a two score margin through the fourth quarter. Western Kentucky tried to extend the game with free throws, but the result was never in doubt with Rice winning by a final score of 64-57.
Ogwumike finished with 22 points and 12 rebounds, including a perfect 8-for-8 from the charity stripe. Sydne Wiggins was next in scoring with 11. Although she was held without a bucket, Nicole Iademarco came through with eight rebounds.
Up Next (Bracket)
Rice will play the winner of Friday’s late tip between Middle Tennesse and UAB on Saturday at 4:30 p.m. in the Conference USA Tournament Championship Game. The winner will receive an automatic bid to the NCAA Tournament.
Rice beat Middle Tennesse 60-47 on the road earlier this season. Two days later they traveled to Birmingham and topped UAB 55-43.