Rice Women’s Basketball took No. 5 Texas A&M down to the wire, falling a single point short in front of a packed crowd at Tudor Fieldhouse on Sunday.
There was no trepidation in the Owls’ eyes when No. 5 Texas A&M took the court at Tudor Fieldhouse on Sunday. Rice Women’s Basketball had missed the chance for revenge against these same Aggies last March, falling in overtime to Marquette in the first round of the NCAA Tournament, hosted in College Station.
The Aggies scored first before Rice punched back behind a pair of baskets from Sydne Wiggins. An 8-5 lead wasn’t overly significant in the grand scheme of this 40-minute contest, but it calmed this team down and reminded them that they could play with this team, and play at this level.
Led by Chennedy Carter, Texas A&M grabbed a 10 point lead and held the Owls at bay through the first half. Rice did most of their scoring from the free-throw line, unable to crack the rigid Aggie defense. Ferocious defense, led by Jasmine Smith kept Rice in the game. The sophomore guard came up big, drawing a charge in the final seconds before halftime prior to a Haylee Swayze three.
Trailing 36-27 at half, Rice began to pick up the pace. The defense was suffocating and the offense took advantage of their opportunities. Rice outscored their opponent 24-13 in the third quarter, clinging to a 53-49 lead at the start of the final frame.
What transpired next felt like a battle of heavyweights. It didn’t feel like C-USA vs SEC. It felt like two elite powers grappling for a resume-boosting win. Rice took a one-point lead on a layup by Erica Ogwumike in the final 24 seconds. A Texas A&M three-pointer hit iron and rattled out, but it would be the Aggies who secured the rebound and the game-winning putback.
Erica Ogwumike and Nancy Mulkey combined for 17 points. A few days removed from setting the school single-game record for blocks, Mulkey had just three swats against the Aggies. With their biggest stars held somewhat in check, the rest of the team stepped up.
Tina Langely wasn’t surprised. “Every player right now is learning that when your number is called you just have to be aggressive,” she said, crediting players the collective effort of the team who fought to the very end.
Player of the game
The loss of sharpshooter Nicole Iademarco from last year’s team left a hole in the Owls’ offensive scheme. Someone was going to have to step up and make those threes to open things up for the rest of the team’s versatile scoring options. When Rice Women’s Basketball took the court for the first time this season, freshman Lauren Schwartz was among the starting five.
Schwartz had 11 points in her first collegiate game against Nicholls St. That was a good start. But when the lights were brightest — like they were Sunday against the No. 5 team in the nation — Schwartz caught fire. She had 12 points in the third quarter alone, making two three-pointers, two more from the field and two foul shots.
“It’s not really all about me. It’s all about the team,” Schwartz said. “I couldn’t have got those open shots without the team passing the ball and making plays.” Those open shots led to a career-high 19 points and gave Rice a chance in the final moments. Three games into her collegiate career, Schwartz is shaping up to be an impactful addition to the Owls’ already potent lineup.
The Owls will hit the road next week for a two-game stretch away from Tudor Fieldhouse. They play at Oklahoma State on Saturday, Nov. 24 at 2:00 p.m. before a Wednesday battle at McNeese St on Nov. 27. That latter is scheduled to be a 12:00 p.m. tip.