The first round of the WNIT went well for Rice women’s basketball, who beat Arizona State to advance in the winner’s bracket.
Rice Women’s Basketball was disappointed to miss out on an at-large NCAA Tournament selection, but their focus pivoted to the WNIT quickly. Head coach Tina Langley had her team focused on preparation for their second WNIT trip in the past four seasons long before brackets were announced.
When the time came, Rice was paired with Arizona State. On paper, the matchup looked favorable for the 18-4 Owls against the 11-10 Sun Devils, who also boasted a strong defensive presence.
It wasn’t too much of a surprise then when both teams struggled on offense early on in the game. In the first quarter, Arizona State made 2-of-14 shots. Rice was held to 2-of-11 from the floor. The Sun Devils had more fouls (6) and turnovers (5) than points (4) in the initial frame. The Owls walked away with a 4-2 early lead, confident in their defense, but in need of a spark.
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Rice scored on three of their first four possessions in the second quarter, taking a 13-8 lead into the media timeout. They won on the offensive glass and took advantage of their opponent’s miscues, scoring seven of their 10 second quarter points directly off Arizona State turnovers. A 15-12 halftime lead highlighted a gritty, exhausting start.
The lead ping-ponged back and forth in the third quarter, but then Rice found their extra gear when it mattered. Katelyn Crosthwait hit the Owls’ first three-pointer of the game to spark a thunderous finish for the Owls. Rice outscored Arizona State 18-to-5 in the fourth quarter to secure the first-round win.
Player of the Game – Nancy Mulkey
In a game in which points were at a premium, Mulkey tied Lauren Schartz for the lead among all players in scoring with 16 points. The senior center converted on 7-of-10 shots from the field. That 70 percent shooting percentage more than doubled Arizona State’s team scoring rate. She added four blocks and seven rebounds.
The format for the 2021 Women’s NIT guarantees two games for every team. With the victory, Rice moves into the winner’s bracket. They’ll face the winner of the second game in the Fort Worth Region between Fresno State (16-10) and Missouri (9-11).