Rice women’s basketball traded blows with USF in a nationally televised bout of AAC elites as Malia Fisher powered the Owls to a big win.
There was noticeable rust for Rice women’s basketball in their return to Tudor Fieldhouse on Thursday against Charlotte. Faced with another battle against one of the American Conference’s top teams on Sunday, just a few days later, the Owls looked much more prepared.
Rice came out of the gates hot, jumping in front by eight points in the first quarter via a 15-2 run, compiled by a series of plays attacking the basket with a three-pointer from Dominque Ennis as the final blow. That might have been enough against one of the league’s lesser squads, but USF stayed composed and rallied back, turning this contest into a 40-minute battle between two talented teams.
USF would push back in front, but the visitors’ advantage never exceeded seven points. The Rice defense held its own, forcing USF to make shots from beyond the arc and plugging the lane throughout the game. USF did hit some big threes down the stretch, but the strategy kept the Bulls from getting into any real rhythm.
Both sides tread water for much of the third and fourth quarters, waiting for either team to take control. Malia Fisher answered the call. The Owls’ veteran leader was responsible for 10 straight points for Rice in the fourth quarter, supplementing her superb defensive plays with aggressive drives to the rim and a perfect performance from the free throw line.
Fisher’s focus was unmistakable. “This is our game,” she said, recalling the team’s message to themselves in the halftime locker room. “It just shows how tough of a team we are to come out here and pull this one out against a great team.”
Final Box | Rice 67 – USF 64
— The Roost (@AtTheRoost) January 14, 2024
Key takeaway | Adjustments are key
Rice women’s basketball designed a significant portion of its offense around the three-point shot against Charlotte, then proceeded to go 2-for-19 from long range. The Owls have been hot and cold from deep this season, but rather than roll the dice against USF, we saw the team make a noticeable decision to attack inside.
Rather than settle for long shots or build around the three, there was a clear intent to get the ball in the hands of Malia Fisher in the post and let her work. The results were extremely encouraging. Fisher finished with a double-double, 23 points and 13 rebounds. She also provided a spark on the defensive side of the court, too.
Rather than stick with a strategy the team wasn’t executing at a high level, head coach Lindsay Edmonds and the Rice coaching staff adjusted. And it worked. Rice built the whole plane out of Malia Fisher and the Owls soared with Dominique Ennis stepping in with a 16-point performance, too.
For those looking for reasons to be encouraged about the state of the program moving forward, this game should serve as a strong endorsement. Not only can Rice beat the best the AAC has to offer, they can do it with superb play from their leaders and well-crafted gameplans from the coaching staff.
Up Next: at ECU (Wednesday, Jan. 17)
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