Feb. 21, 2008
Note: The following is the fourth of a bi-weekly series of articles leading up to the 2008 Conference USA Women's Basketball Tournament to be hosted by UCF at the New UCF Arena in Orlando, Fla., March 6-9.
Heading into the 2005-06 season, Rice was coming off its most successful season in school history and an NCAA Tournament appearance. However, the transition from the Western Athletic Conference to the more rigorous Conference USA was one of the challenges the Owls would have to combat if they wanted to continue their recent success.
Despite being a first-year team in the conference, Rice was picked to finish first in the conference in a vote of the league's coaches.
The Owls traveled to Oxford, Miss., to open their season against Southeastern Conference foe Ole Miss. The Lady Rebels induced Rice into 31 turnovers and took a 110-63 win against the Owls to dampen the high hopes that they entered the season with. But Rice returned home to shock No. 13 Texas Tech and legendary coach Marcia Sharp.
"We knew it would be a real challenge to beat Tech," Rice head coach Greg Williams said after the Texas Tech game. "All the things we failed to do against Ole Miss, we did tonight. We made key shots, played aggressive defense, kept our focus very sharp and never lost our composure."
The Owls struggled through a difficult non-conference schedule that included such powers as Louisiana Tech, Stanford, Marquette and Washington, but Rice won its must-win games and headed into Conference USA play for the first time.
Rice opened league action with back-to-back wins against Southern Miss and UCF, before dropping four straight contests. But after that, the Owls rebounded to win 11 of their next 12 games, including a pair of contests in the Conference USA tournament to advance to the league final. Rice fell just short to Tulsa, 55-52, to dash its hopes of earning it second consecutive NCAA Tournament berth.
The Owls, however, were rewarded for their strong season with their school-record-tying third consecutive postseason appearance. Rice advanced to the National Invitation Tournament, where it squared off with Jackson State in the first round.
Lauren Neaves recorded her 18th double-double of the year with 20 points and 13 rebounds and Kadie Riverin added 20 points to lead Rice past Jackson State, 64-48, at Autry Court in Houston. The Owls had a slow start to the game, but recovered in the second half to survive and advance.
"The first half was very sloppy," Williams said. "We didn't shoot very well and had way too many turnovers. We started to play a bit better in the second half and that's when we pulled away. Jackson State was a very tough team and really came to play tonight."
The Owls drew Big 10 power Indiana in the second round and had to travel to basketball-rich Bloomington, Ind., for the game. The Hoosiers ended Rice's season with a 67-57 win in Assembly Hall, but for the Owls, the season was a great building block for a strong future in Conference USA. Rice finished 18-14 overall and second in C-USA with an 11-5 mark.
"This Rice team has fought hard all year through a lot of adversity," Williams said. "When we were 6-11 back in January, who would have thought we would have been in this position today?"
Rice is one of the 12 league teams coming to Orlando, Fla., March 6-9 for the Conference USA women's basketball tournament. Single-game and session ticket packages are now available. Call the UCFAA Ticket Sales Office at 407-823-1000. For the latest news and information on the Knights, tickets or apparel log on to www.ucfathletics.com - the official site for UCF varsity sports. Also check out UCFPhotos.com, the exclusive fan source for UCF action sports pictures.