Rice Women’s Basketball is headed back to the Conference USA Tournament Finals, escaping Old Dominion with clutch free throws down the stretch.
There wasn’t any hesitation when Nancy Mulkey won the opening tip to set up a layup from Lauren Schwartz on the Owls’ opening possession. A day removed from a first quarter deficit against FIU, Rice women’s basketball came out red hot against 6-Seed Old Dominion.
The Owls led by as many as 16 points in the first half. Only once did the lead fall back into single-digits, but when it did, Rice pushed it back to 11 within a minute. The margin was comfortable enough that center Nancy Mulkey was only on the court for 13 minutes in the first half.
Mulkey made her presence felt immediately in the second half, scoring the Owls’ first eight points of the third quarter. Her and Lauren Schwartz proved to be a dynamic scoring combination. While Mulkey cleaned up underneath, Schwartz scored from just about everywhere else. She followed her career-high 27-point outburst on Thursday with 17 points and fuves rebounds on Friday night.
It wasn’t all smooth sailing for the Owls, though. Rice started to cool off down the stretch. In fact, they failed to score from the field in the final 4:53 of regulation. An 11-point lead dwindled down to a single point, but errant free throw shooting from the Monarchs and two sets of clutch foul shots from Haley Swayze and Mulkey iced the game.
This was one of the closest games Rice has played for in some time. As harrowing as it was, it should prove to be a valuable test with a trip to the NCAA Tournament on the line in their next game.
Head coach Tina Langley remained steadfast in her postgame comments. When asked about the Owls’ resiliency, she was quick to double-down on the compliment. “They have battled all season,” she said. “And I’m just so proud of who they are and what they continue to do.”
Rice women’s basketball is scheduled to play the winner of 1-Seed from the East, Middle Tennessee or 2-Seed from the West, UTEP at 5:00 p.m. Saturday on CSB Sports Network.