Here is an incomplete list of firsts the Rice Owls have achieved this season:
- First time ranked in the AP Poll (No. 25 last week, No. 24 this week)
- First C-USA regular-season title
- First winning streak of 12 or more games (currently at 16)
And here are the firsts they hope to achieve over the coming weeks:
- First undefeated C-USA season in school history
- First C-USA tournament championship
- First undefeated C-USA team to win the conference tournament
Since joining Conference USA in 2005, the Owls haven’t been particularly impressive in conference play, with just four winning seasons, two trips to the conference championship game (and two losses there) and an overall record of 89-109 (and 9-11 in the tournament). Their best season was that first 2005-06 season, where they went 11-5 in conference play and ended up in the final of the C-USA tournament, where they lost to Tulsa.
Rice’s current 14-0 record in conference play, during which they’ve outscored their opponents by an average of 17.5 points per game, is a bit of a step up from those performances.
Going into their last two games of C-USA play against Louisiana Tech and UTSA (one of their closest conference wins and one of their largest conference wins, respectively), the focus is clear: keep playing smart defensive basketball, and keep giving the ball to Erica Ogwumike.
Ogwumike — whose older sister, Olivia, is one of the seniors being honored in this afternoon’s final home contest (and whose other two sisters you might already know) — leads Rice in scoring and rebounding, with 16 points and 10.8 rebounds per game. She’s one of just two players in C-USA to average a double-double and the only guard, and she was named C-USA Preseason Player of the Year.
On the defensive end, Rice is led by six-foot-nine center Nancy Mulkey, whose 67 total blocks lead the conference despite Mulkey having only played 18 games this season. In three games this season, Mulkey has recorded either eight or nine blocks.
With a 23-3 overall record heading into their final two games, a strong finish — even if it doesn’t end in a tournament title — would make the Owls awfully hard to overlook as an at-large NCAA bid. But their focus is on a conference championship and the automatic NCAA bid … and, in the end, breaking the school record for total wins in a season by nabbing victories in both of their last regular-season games would just be a nice bonus.
Owls in action
No. 24 Rice Owls (23-3, 14-0) vs. Louisiana Tech Lady Techsters (14-13, 6-8)
When: Saturday, March 2, at 3 p.m. ET
Where: Tudor Fieldhouse, Houston, TX
How to watch: ESPN+
No. 24 Rice Owls (23-3, 14-0) at UTSA Roadrunners (7-19, 2-12)
When: Thursday, March 7, at 8 p.m. ET
Where: Convocation Center, San Antonio, TX
How to watch: ESPN+
Elsewhere in C-USA:
- The C-USA Player of the Week is Shonte Hailes from Southern Mississippi. Hailes scored a career-high 33 points last weekend against Louisiana Tech, the same team she had her only other career 30-point game against.
- Charlotte’s Jada McMillian is the C-USA Freshman of the Week. McMillian earned her first start last week and scored a career-high 20 points in leading the 49ers to their first road win since November.
- McMillian also picked up USBWA National Freshman of the Week honors for her efforts. It’s the first time a Charlotte player has received the award.
- Louisiana Tech’s Taylor Stahly and UAB’s Deanna Kuzmanic were named to the 2018-19 Google Cloud Academic All-District Team, and now have the chance to be selected to the Google Cloud Academic All-America teams.
- The C-USA tournament tips off on March 13. Fourth-place Western Kentucky looks to play spoiler and defend its conference title against a heavily-favored Rice team.