Rice women’s basketball saw their season come to an end in heartbreaking fashion by way of an overtime loss to Marquette in the NCAA Tournament. The Owls look to learn and move on.
With 2:54 remaining on the fourth quarter clock Erica Ogwumike drained a three point shot that sent the largely pro-Rice crowd at Reed Arena into a frenzy. After going back and forth with Marquette, the Owls had seemingly broken things wide open. The nine-point lead was the largest margin by either side that day. Rice could almost taste their first NCAA Tournament victory in nearly 20 years.
Unfortunately for coach Tina Langley’s young squad, they’ll have to wait at least one more year. The veteran-laden Golden Eagles were not afraid of the moment, forcing overtime and going on to win by a final score of 58-54. It was Ogwumike herself who seemed to take the loss the hardest after the game. “I think a lot of the things that we messed up were in our hands,” she said, “poise was the thing we were missing toward the end.”
Poise. An easy self-possessed assurance of manner according to Merriam Webster. More specifically, the overflowing of the only thing this team was missing entering the NCAA Tournament for their first times — experience. Rice had practiced the situational drills. They knew what to do in every situation. But when Ogwumike hit that fourth quarter three, their collective poise dissipated at the worst possible time.
Credit the Owls with this. They didn’t lose their poise for long. It less than two minutes of game time the 9-0 Marquette run was over. Rice had the basketball with enough time to take the potential game-winning shot. It ricocheted out. The Owls would go on to lose in overtime, an extra period which they probably could have avoided had it not been for the brief lack of composure that allowed Marquette to tie the game.
Learning the hard way
“Any time you have experience, you’re going to learn from it. And we will learn from this game” Langley said in her postgame comments. Those two minutes of uncertainty will stick with this team all offseason and into 2020. They will learn from it, and Langley remains as confident as ever they’re on the right track. “I think the future is very bright,” she added, this is a very young team and really talented team. So we know that we can continue to compete at this level for a long time.”
In overtime, the shots fell for Marquette and not for Rice. The Owls had a few hurried looks, but even their best drawn up possessions ended in layups that bounced off the suddenly miniature basket. Poise or not, a more fortunate bounce here or there could have swung the outcome of this game.
That’s part of what makes this loss so frustrating. Even with the miscues, Rice could have won. “I think it also gives you a little bit of hunger when you’ve had the chance to be there,” Langley explained,” We talked about this in the locker room, how we went from a team that had no post‑season to WBI champions to being in the NIT and NCAA. It is just hard to skip steps in life.”
Perhaps for Rice, this really will be an unskippable, character building step on the journey to something more. The underdog who went toe-to-toe with the Big East regular season champs came up feeling scorned. Like they should be moving on in the Tournament, not going home emptyhanded.
The floor has been raised
Call it a lack of poise. Call it bad luck. Either way, it’s safe to say this season did not end the way Rice had hoped it would, largely because of the stratospheric expectations this program had engendered over the last five months.
Rice set a myriad of program bests, going a perfect 16-0 in conference play, winning 21 games in a row and finishing the season perfect at Tudor Fieldhouse. Ogwumike was named CUSA Player of the Year. Nancy Mulkey was named CUSA Tournament MVP. Lauren Grigsby was named CUSA Sixth Person of the Year.
The reason this team is disappointed in a loss to a Top 20 team is partly because Rice ended the season ranked No. 21 in the AP Poll, the highest rank in school history. A feat in itself considering being ranked in the first place was also a first, achieved by this year’s squad.
The future is bright
The potential of this group of women is astronomical. They proved it all season long, and now they’ll go into the offseason with new experience and an even greater drive. Grigsby, Shani Rainey and Nicole Iademarco will be moving on, but Rice has plenty of pieces to make another run in 2020. And that’s exactly what they plan to do.
“Sometimes you can have a special group of people that can take you a little farther than you anticipate,” Langley said as she wrapped up her postgame thoughts. She wasn’t referring directly to next year’s team, but the undercurrent theme of rising about expectations syncs perfectly with this team’s experience. They did go further than most anticipated. And they’re ready to take the next steps. It’ll just have to wait until 2020.