BOWLING GREEN, KY - A valiant effort by the Rice women's basketball team fell just short in Thursday's road contest at reigning C-USA champion WKU, 52-49.
The Owls (3-12, 2-2) nearly erased a 13-point second half deficit and forced a third straight overtime contest but two final three-point attempts in the final 10 seconds of regulation didn't fall.
Rice sophomore Shani Rainey had a near-heroic fourth quarter, scoring 13 of the Owls' 15 points in the period and finished with a team-high 15 points despite foul issues. Freshman forward Lexie Ducat gave the Owls a big boost off the bench by notching her first career double-double with a career-high 12 points (6-of-10 from the field) and 12 rebounds, along with four blocks, in 34 minutes. In addition, junior guard Maya Hawkins dished out a career-high 10 assists to become the first Owl to record double-figure assists since Reem Moussa on Nov. 24, 2014.
"WKU is a very good, well-coached team," Rice head coach Tina Langley said. "For our young squad to be able to battle the defending conference champions on the road, you have to be pleased with the effort. We're a team in progress, and we still have so much to learn, but we take advantage of every opportunity to grow and that's what's exciting."
The Owls held WKU (13-2, 4-0) to a season-low in both points (52) and field goal percentage (29.6%). WKU guard Tashia Brown led the Lady Toppers with 18 points on 9-of-24 shooting while guard Kayla Smith chipped in 10 points.
Rice outscored WKU in points in the paint (30-26), fast break points (12-4) and bench scoring (18-8). The Lady Toppers did manage to collect 27 offensive rebounds but led only 13 second chance points. Twenty four Rice turnovers also turned into a 21-11 advantage for WKU.
WKU took a 27-19 lead into halftime, taking advantage of 13 Rice turnovers that resulted in a 13-3 points off turnovers advantage. Ducat scored six points and grabbed six rebounds in the first 20 minutes but Rice trailed despite holding the Lady Toppers to just 28 percent shooting.
The Lady Toppers built their lead to 32-19 in the early stages of the third quarter but Rice rallied by outscoring WKU 15-8 the rest of the period and trailed just 40-34 going into the final quarter.
WKU outscored Rice 6-1 in the first four minutes of the final quarter to build an 11-point lead (46-35) but that's when Rainey took over. The Fairview, Texas native proceeded to score 13 of the Owls' final 15 points, all with four fouls, and brought the Owls within 52-49 on a jumper with 59 seconds remaining.
Rice then got a defensive stop and Rainey was fouled pulling down the rebound but missed two free throws with 32 seconds remaining. Rainey made up for the misses with a steal four seconds later and Rice had Hawkins had two looks from beyond the arc to tie the game but neither three-pointer would fall.
Next up for the Owls will be a visit to Huntington, WV on Saturday when they face Marshall (11-4, 1-3) at 12 p.m. (CT).