After going more than a calendar year since their last C-USA loss, Rice women’s basketball dropped their second conference game of the week, falling to Charlotte.
Wait, what happened? Those thoughts danced through the heads of Rice women’s basketball fans when the team fell to SMU all the way back on November 13. Rice came out rusty in their first road game and was stunted from start to finish by a team which did not have the athleticism to match the Owls — or at least, it didn’t seem like it on paper.
Three months later that guttural feeling has returned, placing the season at a crossroads. At this point last week the Owls were 11-0 in C-USA play, owners of first place and presumptive favorites to repeat as back-to-back Champions. Now they’re in second place, with fewer wins and more losses than fifth-place Charlotte, who handed Rice their most uncomfortable defeat since that ominous SMU affair.
Against SMU, Erica Ogwumike and Nancy Mulkey played well. Ogwumike led the way with 17 points and eight rebounds while Mulkey blocked 11 shots. For whatever reason, the team didn’t shoot well, finishing 24.1 percent from the field.
Rice couldn’t buy a bucket against Charlotte, either. Ogwumike had 14 points. Nancy Mulkey was limited by injury, scoring five points with six rebounds in 21 minutes, playing just four minutes in the second half. Kendall Ellig, Mulkey’s primary backup this season, had more fouls (three) than points (two). From start to finish, Rice was out of sorts, confused. They didn’t look much like the team that had overcome every obstacle for the past several months.
Returning to Tudor Fieldhouse and ending this forgettable road sweep will be a welcome homecoming. The pressure to be perfect is gone, but if the Owls have their eyes on a top seed in the C-USA Tournament and a repeat trip to the NCAA’s, there isn’t time to dwell on this dismal result.
The Owls will see their resiliency tested in the next three weeks. How they respond will determine the narrative that accompanies a season that began with lofty expectations.