Rice women’s basketball capped off a perfect postseason on Sunday, outlasting Ole Miss to win the WNIT Championship.
Sunday marked the first-ever WNIT Championship Game appearance for Rice women’s basketball. Winners of four straight WNIT Tournament games, all by double-digits, the eager Owls arrived ready to make history.
Rice displayed the same physicality and focus they’d exemplified over the past two weeks, taking an early and extending it a little bit at a time. Lauren Schwartz sparked the Owls’ offense with 10 first quarter points, cutting and weaving through the Ole Miss defense for what seemed to be endless open shots in the lane.
The tandem of Nancy Mulkey in the paint and Schwartz on the drive proved too much for Ole Miss to handle. That early lead began to grown extending to an 11-point lead at halftime. Rice lead 34-23 at the break. All they had to do was keep up the defensive intensity and the title would be theirs.
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Ole Miss had barely caught their breath when the second half onslaught began. Jasmine Smith got things started with a three. Then Schwartz and Mulkey continued to add to the Rice advantage. There were key contributions from Smith, Sydne Wiggins, Hayley Swayze and Katelyn Crosthwait, but the tandem of Schwartz and Mulkey proved impossible for Ole Miss to overcome.
The Rebels threatened, cutting their deficit to four points in the fourth quarter. But the Owls found that extra gear. Rice would hold on down the stretch, outscoring Ole Miss 71 to 58 to win the 2021 WNIT Championship.
Player of the Game – Nancy Mulkey
In her final career game as a Rice Owl, center Nancy Mulkey was magnificent. She scored 19 points, grabbed 12 rebounds and smacked seven blocks, one short of a season-high. . Ole Miss simply had no answer for her in the paint, and when they tried to key in on her, she’d funnel the ball to an open teammate.
Mulkey will leave Rice as one of the most productive and impactful players in program history. It’s fitting her final moments on the floor lifted her team to a championship.
And as for making history, the win marked the second time in the last four seasons that head coach Tina Langley and the Owls had won a postseason tournament. They won the WBI in 2017, defeating UNC Greensboro. Now they’ll add a WNIT Championship to their trophy case.
Rice women’s basketball is also the first team in Conference USA history to win the WNIT. Yet another first for a program that keeps winning.