Rice women’s basketball is headed to the NCAA Tournament and will take on 5-seed Marquette in College Station, Texas in the first round. Here’s everything you need to know.
After dropping their first two games of the season, Rice has won 28 of their last 29. Their long hiccup came in December against North Carolina on the road, a team which earned a 9-seed in the NCAA Tournament field. Rice’s two other losses came to 6-seed UCLA and 4-seed Texas A&M. Rice has won 21 consecutive games, a program record.
Head coach Tina Langley has reached the postseason for the third straight year, but 2019 marks her first trip to the NCAA Tournament following trips to the WBI and the WNIT.
This is the third trip to the NCAA Tournament for Rice, who last advanced to the Big Dance in 2005 after winning the WAC. The Owls lost to Georgia in the first round. Their only other appearance came in 2000 where Rice upset 4-seed UC Santa Barbara, the Owls lone NCAA Tournament victory in program history.
Rice ranks 13th in the nation in effective field goal percentage (53.5 percent) and shoots an impressive 35.9 percent from three as a team. The defense has been even better. Rice ranks sixth in opponents points per game (52.8) and allows .84 points per scoring attempt, the seventh-best mark in the nation. Scoring doesn’t come easy against the Owls.
Projected starting lineup and rotation
- Sydne Wiggins (So) — 6.9 points, 2.4 rebounds, 2.4 assists
- Jasmine Smith (Fr) — 6.2 points, 2.3 rebounds, 2.2 assists
- Nicole Iademarco (Sr) — 9.2 points, 4.7 rebounds, 2.4 assists
- Erica Ogwumike (Jr) — 16.3 points, 10.6 rebounds, 2.8 assists
- Nancy Mulkey (So) — 13.7 points, 5.6 rebounds, 3.9 blocks
One of the tallest women’s basketball players in the nation, Nancy Mulkey is the rock of the Rice team. Named the CUSA Tournament MVP, she compliments the scoring and rebounding ability of CUSA Player of the Year Erica Ogwumike extremely well.
After Ogwumike and Mulkey, a host of different players could see action on any given game depending on the game script and the opponent. Reigning CUSA Sixth Player of the Year Lauren Grigsby averages a hefty 21 minutes per game contributing 7.5 points and 3.2 rebounds per game off the bench. Grigsby is a three point threat, knocking down 44 percent of her long range attempts. Chrisman will serve to give Mulkey rest, particularly on the front end and back end of quarters.
The Golden Eagles under the direction of fifth-year head coach Carolyn Kieger have turned into a contender in the Big East. Marquette has made the NCAA Tournament in each of the past two years, seeing mixed results. In 2017 they earned a 5-seed but were upset by 12-seed Quinnipiac in the first round. Last year they were an 8-seed, beating 9-seed Dayton in the first round before following to 1-seed Louisville.
The end of the regular season wasn’t kind to Marquette in 2019. The Golden Eagles won just five of their last nine games, losing most recently in the Big East Championship Game to DePaul on a free throw with five seconds left in the fourth quarter. The Big East ranks sixth in conference RPI making Marquette 26-7 finish more than respectable. The majority of their losses have been close, including a five-point loss to 1-Seed Mississippi State much earlier in the season.
Marquette makes their hay on the offensive side of the ball. They rank in the top 20 nationally in field goal percentage (15th, 46.6 percent), points per play (10th, .95) and scoring (4th, 82.9 points per game). The defensive side of the glass is a different story. They allow 61.6 points per game but rank 174th in average defensive efficiency.
Projected starting lineup and rotation
- Danielle King (Sr) — 12.0 points, 4.0 rebounds, 3.7 assists
- Natisha Hiedeman (Sr) — 17.8 points, 6.1 rebounds, 4.5 assists
- Allazia Blockton (Sr) — 14.4 points, 4.5 rebounds, 2.4 assists
- Amani Wilborn (Sr) — 11.7 points, 4.1 rebounds, 3.3 assists
- Selena Lott (So) — 7.2 points, 3.1 rebounds, 1.4 assists
For Marquette, it’s the glaring omission of senior post player Erika Davenport that could pose the biggest concern. Davenport was injured in the team’s loss to Butler in February and ruled out for the season. Sophomore Lauren Van Kleunen has seen a bump up in minutes in her stead, but the team has seen a noticeable dip in production. Their scoring average per game has declined from 85.8 points to 74.0 points with Davenport sidelined.
Lott brings something Davenport lacked, a three point presence. She’s connected on 46.2 percent of her shots from beyond the arc, the best mark on the team by far. She’s not alone though, Hiedeman (40.2 percent), Blockton (39.4 percent) and junior Isabelle Spingola (38.8 percent) are all dangerous from that range. All in all, this is a veteran team that’s gotten better each year.
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How to watch
Tip off is scheduled for 1:00 p.m. CT on Friday, March 22. The game will be televised on ESPN2 and available on the WatchESPN streaming service.
Rice is the underdog in Friday’s battle of Top 25 teams. FiveThirtyEight gives Rice a 14 percent chance of winning. 5Dimes listed the Owls as 10.5 underdogs. The AP Poll has these two squads three spots apart, Marquette at No. 18 and Rice at No. 21.