CHARLOTTE, NC - A valiant comeback by the Rice Owls women's basketball team fell just short Thursday evening in a 68-63 loss to the Charlotte 49ers.
Rice (8-20, 7-10) fought back from 17 points down in the first half to take a five point lead near the end of the third quarter but Charlotte (18-10, 11-6) outscored the Owls 22-12 the rest of the way to prevail and sweep the season series.
The Owls were led in scoring by junior forward Jasmine Goodwine (16 points) while sophomore guard Shani Rainey notched her fourth double-double of the season with 15 points and 11 rebounds, 7 of which came on the offensive end. Junior guard Maya Hawkins also reached double-figures with 14 points while dishing out 5 assists and collecting 4 steals. Senior forward Alyssa Lang established career-highs with 15 rebounds (7 offensive) and 6 assists.
Charlotte had a balanced scoring attack with four players scoring in double-figures, led by 14 points off the bench from Ciara Gregory (4-of-7 from three-point territory). Point guard Laia Raventos posted a double-double for the 49ers with 11 assists and 12 rebounds.
The 49ers outshot Rice 53 percent-34 percent, which included a 50 percent performance from beyond the arc (7-of-14). Rice outscored the 49ers in points in the paint (32-26), points off turnovers (18-12) and collected 19 offensive rebounds.
Rice fell behind 20-12 after an opening quarter in which Charlotte shot 80 percent, including 4-of-5 from deep. Gregory and Kira Gordon combined to score 17 of the team's 20 points while the Owls shot just 36 percent and committed four turnovers.
The 49ers lead grew to as large as 31-14 midway through the third quarter but Rice closed the period strong by trimming the deficit to 39-30 going into halftime. Freshman guard Gabrielle Stanton came off the bench and scored five quick points and Hawkins knocked down a three-pointer during the Rice run.
Rice outscored Charlotte 17-6 over the first six minutes of the third quarter to erase the 17-point
deficit and take a 48-45 lead on a three-pointer from freshman Lauren Grigsby. Rainey scored seven points during that stretch and Hawkins and Wendy Knight sank three-pointers. Grigsby gave Rice their biggest lead of the night, 51-46, on another three-pointer with 2:35 left in the third quarter.
Charlotte answered the Owls run with an 8-0 spurt of their own over the final two minutes of the third quarter to take a 54-51 lead to the fourth.
Neither team scored for the first 3:14 of the final quarter until Charlotte's Lefty Webster scored on a layup at the 6:46 mark. Rice had a golden opportunity to tie the game late trailing 64-61, but a Knight corner three-pointer was long with 13 seconds remaining. The 49ers then made two final free throws to clinch the win.
Rice will close out the regular season on Saturday in Norfolk, Va. (12 p.m. CT) against the Old Dominion Lady Monarchs, who the Owls defeated 68-46 on Feb. The Owls won't know their seed at the C-USA Championships until the conclusion of games Saturday evening.