Rice Owls head women's basketball coach Greg Williams spared a few minutes of his time with The R to talk basketball Thursday morning. The Owls recently completed their sixth season under Williams and posted an 18-13 overall mark and a post-season berth in the WNIT, their third under Williams. Rice also finished third in Conference USA with a 10-6 mark. Rice's final NCAA RPI was 117 out of 343 Division I women's basketball playing schools.
On playing against Texas A&M in the season and the championship game:
It wasn't real pleasant playing A&M early in the year, it was their second game of the season and their starting point guard Sydney Colson was still out with an injury, but you could still see that they were an outstanding basketball team. Did I see them as national champions that early? No, I did not. I don't know anybody in the country that predicted that. They had a great run through the tournament beating Baylor in the fourth time those two teams had played. Ironically, UConn also lost to Notre Dame in the fourth time those two teams had played and, that's an unfortunate situation for both Baylor and Connecticut because they had won three out of four games against them, but Baylor just happened to lose the game in the tournament to go to the Final Four.
It was an interesting championship game between Notre Dame and Texas A&M. A&M's Danielle Adams had a monster game just as she did here. She had 26 points (10 rebounds) in 25 minutes against us. A&M's defense is what keyed its season all year long. They did a great job here when we played them and held us to under 30 percent shooting from the field.
We recruited a lot of those kids on the A&M team and I've known Coach (Gary) Blair for years, and years, and years, and we're both fairly old and I was happy for him.
It was a great situation for A&M, its first national championship in women's basketball. I think it was good to get some new blood, if you will, into the championship game, although, I think most of the country was looking for a Connecticut vs. Stanford championship game. I have to give Notre Dame and Texas A&M credit, because they both beat number one seeds to get to the championship game, so they were very deserving to be there.
I thought it was a really exciting championship game with a lot of scoring, some great defense. It went right down to the last minute of the game, so it was a very entertaining game. In women's basketball we've had some Connecticut-Butler finals if you will, like the men had this year, which hasn't been good for showcasing our game, because many times people will only watch the championship game if they're not really women's basketball fans per se. I think the championship game will help grow our game nationally.
Reflecting back on Rice's 2011 season:
We over achieved in my mind, especially going into the season without two key players in Jackie Stanley and Lacey Neu, players that we thought would be in our top-eight rotation on paper before the season started. I thought this team did a tremendous job. At one point we were 10-9 during the season and then we started really clicking and playing some really good basketball. We did not do a pre-season poll in our conference on the women's side, but I think if people would've known that Jackie Stanley and Lacey Neu were not going to play then we probably would've been picked 10th, no higher than ninth.
For our team to finish third is a great accomplishment. I am very proud of the team.
Morgan Mayse had a great senior year and really stepped up in conference game and was rewarded with a third team all-conference selection. I also thought that our other two seniors, Megan Elliott and Memri Carmon both had solid senior years and were big contributing factors and I was really happy for them, because two years ago they went through our 7-23 season. So, it was nice for them to have a turnaround season.
Of course, Jessica Kuster had a bust out year as conference freshman of the year and is the first Rice player to ever receive that honor and was also first team all-conference and was on the conference all-defensive team. She was the second-leading rebounder nationally, among freshmen players and was second all-time in season rebounds at Rice, so she had a tremendous year. D'Frant Smart also had a real solid year. She broke the Rice single season assist record and also led the conference in assist-to-turnover ratio.
For this team to have won 18 games and finish third in the conference is a great accomplishment and it was nice to be rewarded a post-season berth in the WNIT, which is our third post-season appearance since we've been here in six years. It gets us back into that post-season train of thought, which is very helpful in preparing in the off-season for the upcoming year.
The turning point of the season at Tulane:
We were coming off a very poor performance at UTEP where the final score was not indicative of how close the game was - it ended up being our worst conference loss of the season at 22 points. To come back and play the defending the champions in our league and certainly had we had a pre-season poll, Tulane would've probably been picked to win the conference and justifiably so, they were off to a great start, they had beaten LSU at LSU for the first time in many, many years and were 16-3 when we played them. Our team knew how good they were and had a lot of respect for them. They had pretty much their entire team back from a team that had won the championship the year before. So, to go in on their home court and play not only competitively the entire game, but to win the game in overtime on the road was a tremendous confidence booster for our team at a time we really needed it, because we were struggling and were 11-9 on the season and 3-3 in conference. To beat such a quality team on their home court and have played so well just kept the momentum going and we got on a really nice roll after that and really sustained that outstanding play throughout the course of the regular season.
Thoughts on the 2011-12 season:
I think our expectations for next year will be higher, because we do return four starters. We really are going to take a hit in losing Morgan Mayse in the post. And, also you might as well say we lose Jackie Stanley, because we thought we were going to have Jackie Stanley not only this past year, but also this upcoming year and we were unable to fill that post position in the early signing period. We have commitments from three excellent student-athletes, but they are all wing players. We've been looking at all kinds of combinations to see how we're going to be able to give Jessica Kuster some more help on the interior. We are looking at a couple of young ladies to sign late, which is pretty unusual in recruiting these days. So we are looking for help in the post and at the point guard position in the late signing period and we'll know more about that in the next couple of weeks.
If we don't sign a post player we will have to see how things shape up in the off-season and next fall to whether we can still play our standard two post three perimeter player style of game or if we're going to have to be more of a just one post player and four wing players, which a lot of teams are doing around the country. Tulane had a lot of success in our league doing that. It wasn't really by choice, they had lost some post players over the years and never really played their two-post system much the last two years and they were fortunate to have some outstanding wing players and Coach (Lisa) Stockton did a really nice job of adjusting her style of play to her personnel. That's something we'll have to wait on to see what happens in the late recruiting period along with Lacey Neu's recovery from her second ACL, and we're concerned about that, because it is the same knee and she hasn't played competitive basketball in two seasons, so she is a big question mark going into next season.
We were encouraged with the way Candace Ashford played toward the end of the season. We were proud of Candace, because she was an early season starter and when Jessica Kuster started coming on strong we put Jess in the starting lineup and Candace's minutes were reduced very drastically. But, she did not get discouraged and kept working hard during the season and really had some nice minutes late in the season, so she could be an important player for us going into next season as we search for that player to step in that post position that we lost with Morgan Mayse.
We also hope for the continued development of Brianna Hypolite, who really had an outstanding year and fulfilled more of the potential that we coaches had seen in her for two years as she was a much more consistent player and hopefully she and D'Frantz (Smart) continue their upward play going into their senior years, because they are going to be very important if we're going to continue to move up.
In two years, we've gone from seven wins to 13 to 18 and moved up from 12th to seventh to third in the conference, so that is a very fast rise up through the conference and hopefully we can sustain that momentum that we had this year. Winning breeds winning as losing breeds losing so hopefully we've shaken off that losing syndrome that we had fallen into two years ago and can keep Rice up near the upper two, three, or four teams in Conference USA.
Prospects of Conference USA:
The conference next year will really be up in the air more so maybe in a long time, because the top teams - Houston and Tulane, both lose a lot of players that were successful over their whole careers. It will be an interesting conference next year and we're happy to have the returning players and the success we had, but yet it always goes back to how much improvement players make in the off-season and the injury factor has always been an issue. We certainly feel better going into next year now than we did last at this time.<br>
I am very happy for the team and very proud of them. I thought the coaching staff did a great job throughout the year in keeping the team motivated and doing the scouting of our opponents and our players really responded to them. Hopefully, they are feeling good about themselves and what they accomplished. Because, I think what they did was really remarkable and I'm very proud of them.