Rice women’s basketball isn’t led by one singular star, instead leaning on a deep roster that shares the ball and just keeps winning games.
Rice women’s basketball is not your conventional team, at least not in today’s era of the sport where one superstar can take you a long way. The Owls sit within striking distance of the top spot in the AAC standings but you won’t find any individuals near the pinnacle of their respective leaderboards.
North Texas (9-5), Tulsa (9-5), UAB (9-6) and ECU (7-7) have all been near the top of the league standings this season. They each have at least one of the top 10 scorers in the conference, North Texas and Tulsa each have two. Temple (9-4) and Rice (9-6) don’t have any, but even Temple has a player that ranks top four in the conference in assists and another that’s top seven in rebounding.
Rice doesn’t have anyone that high on either list.
But that doesn’t make the Owls pretenders. Quite the opposite, actually. These women define the word team unlike any other program in the league this year, and perhaps over the course of several previous seasons. As cliche as it might sound, they share the ball and have established a culture of selflessness which, when combined with high-end talent, makes them dangerous.
“I think our team is just so unselfish,” said redshirt freshman Hailey Adams. “Whenever someone’s cutting, we hit them. Whenever someone’s getting into a flare, we hit them. If there’s a slip, we hit them. Whoever’s open is going to get the shot and we don’t really care who it is, as long as we get a shot up.”
To that point, Rice does lead the AAC in one, lesser publicized metric: bench points, averaging 26.5 per game.
It won’t surprise anyone who has seen the Owls play in recent weeks that Rice would top the league in that statistic. In their last seven games, the following selection of players have led the team in scoring: Sussy Ngulefac (19 vs SMU), Jazzy Owens-Barnett (21 vs USF. 17 vs Tulsa) and Malia Fisher (22 vs ECU). The one common thread? All of those performances came off the bench.
“I always feel like someone’s gonna step up and have that night for us and someone keeps showing up and someone keeps stepping up,” head coach Lindsay Edmonds remarked. “I don’t care who it is and I don’t think they care who it is, right? As long as the team gets the win and we keep climbing and keep positioning ourselves for where we want to be in March.”
Against East Carolina, the Rice women’s basketball benched dropped 50 points on their own. The Pirates scored 57 as a team. Only needing eight points from your starting five — ostensibly the best five players on your team — to win a conference basketball game? Quite frankly, that’s unbelievable. For the Owls, that’s the new normal.
In the midst of all of this, the Rice starting five remains superb. Destiny Jackson just became the all-time leader in program history in games played, passing 1,000 career points, 500 career rebounds and 150 career steals. Her 85.0 percent free throw percentage leads the AAC. Her teammate, Dominique Ennis, will finish with a top-five mark in program history for three-pointers made in a single season.
The list goes on and on. Up and down the roster, every player can make the Owls’ opponents pay. “I think it’s super fun to be able to just know that the person you’re throwing to is, nine times out of 10, gonna hit that shot,” Owens-Barnett said.
The Owls’ depth, in theory, should enable them to have fresher legs and play their best basketball as the calendar approaches the most important month of the season. Rice women’s basketball, unsurprisingly, doesn’t boast any of the top 15 players in the conference in minutes played.
“Basketball season is long, right? We play a lot of games. It’s a grind. We’re a little bit in the dog days right now. It’s been a long time of practicing, a long time of playing,” Edmonds said. “I think it’s going to help us tremendously throughout the stretch of February, but also into March.”
In the interim, the Owls find themselves in a dogfight for a top-four seed and a double-bye in the conference tournament, just a few weeks away. They hold important tiebreakers over ECU, South Florida and Tulsa, but even still, there isn’t much margin for error down the stretch. The depth of the roster has gotten them to this point. The next question looms: can it get them over the hump?
The super-power of the Rice roster this season has been its ability to produce someone on almost every night out of the blue who can drop 15+ points and take over a game. However, when the light shines brightest, the pressure won’t fall on an unnamed role player to have the big game. It’s going to come down to the stars to lead the charge and the bench to compliment them.
That balance has skewed toward the latter this season, creating unforgettable moments. But it’s also led to some head-scratching losses when the bench didn’t deliver an otherworldly performance, something the roster has grown accustomed to, for better or for worse.
Rice women’s basketball has found an uncommon balance that’s worked for them to this point. They share the ball, score points and win more games than they don’t. The road ahead is tough, but this team believes it has the answers it needs to weather the storm. “Any night, anyone can step up and help us win a basketball game,” Edmonds summarized. “I think it’s really special.”
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