March 1, 2012
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Houston - Jasmine Lee scored a game-high 25 points as Memphis came from behind to defeat Rice 65-60 in the final regular season game for both teams Thursday night in Tudor Fieldhouse.
The Owls went ahead 59-52 on a Jessica Kuster jumper with 6:43 to play in the game, but was unable to score another field goal as the Tigers picked up their defensive effort. Memphis, who locked up second-place in Conference USA, would outscore the Owls 13 to one to close out the game for the win.
The Tigers grabbed the lead for good at 1:55 as Ramses Lonlack converted one of two free throws to make the score 60-59. Bilqis Abdul-Qaadir then drove the lane and scored on a lay up to give Memphis a three-point cushion (1:00).
Rice freshman Christal Porter cut the deficit to 62-60 with a made free throw (:32). Memphis' Nicole Dickson then answered with two free with 27 seconds left and Abdul-Qaadir made another free throw with 13 seconds on the clock for the final score.
With the loss, Rice finishes the regular season with a 15-14 record and 9-7 mark in Conference USA. The Owls finished in a three-way tie for third with UAB and Tulane. Memphis heads to the C-USA tourney with a 23-6 overall slate and a 13-3 record in league action.
"It's a disappointing loss," said Rice head coach Greg Williams. "We had a chance to control our own destiny and get a bye in the first round and we let it slip away."
In the first half, Rice was behind 21-15 (10:08), but then proceeded to outscore Memphis 21 to nine to end the half. At one point, the Owls outscored the Tigers 19 to two for a 36-24 margin. Memphis then finished the half by scoring the final six points.
"We felt like the way the half ended really hurt us," commented Williams. "We really worked hard to build a 12-point lead and let them score the last six points of the half in 45 seconds."
The Owls were led by the duo of Jessica Kuster and senior Brianna Hypolite. Kuster had 19 points, while Hypolite scored 17 in her final home game. It was also the final home game for seniors' D'Frantz Smart (seven points, four assists, and three steals), Amenemope McKinney (three points and five rebounds), and Candace Ashford (two points and five rebounds).
"They came in here as freshman when we were rebuilding," Williams said of the senior quartet. "They've been a big part of us getting back on track, going to postseason last year. They went from 7-23 to 14-18 to 18-14 and at least .500 this year. They definitely helped us get our program back on track."
Seventeen of Lee's 25 points were scored in the second-half and she went also 7-8 at the charity stripe. Lee received scoring help from Lonlack, who tallied 18 points, and Abdul-Qaadir finished with seven points. Memphis shot 44.4 percent (24-54) from the field for the contest, including 48 percent in the second-half. The Owls shot 36.7 percent (22-60) from the floor.
Rice now readies for next week's Conference USA Championship held in Memphis, Tenn. The Owls will be the number five seed and will face 12-seed Houston in the first round. Game times and bracket will be officially announced Saturday night (March 3). Rice captured both contests against the Cougars during the regular season. The winner faces four-seed UAB in the quarter-final round.
Action gets underway on Wednesday, March 7 at the Elma Roane Fieldhouse on the University of Memphis campus with four first round games. The championship concludes on Saturday, March 10 with the title game being played at the FedEx Forum.
Conference USA Championship - Seeds
(1) UTEP plays winner of (8) UCF vs. (9) Southern Miss
(2) Memphis plays winner of (7) Marshall vs. (10) SMU
(3) Tulane plays winner of (6) Tulsa vs. (11) East Carolina
(4) UAB plays winner of (5) Rice vs. (12) Houston