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NCAA Tournament: Rice Owls vs Marquette Golden Eagles
Posted: March 22, 2019 -- 8:54 a.m. CDT
The 12-seed Rice Owls (28-3) will face the 5-seed Marquette Golden Eagles (26-7), inside Reed Arena, on Texas A&M's campus, Friday afternoon (1 p.m. on ESPN2) in the First Round of the 2019 NCAA Division I Women's Championship. Today's game is the Owls' first NCAA Tournament game since the 2004-'05 season. The Golden Eagles are making their third consecutive appearance in the NCAA Tournament and second straight at-large selection.
"They're incredibly experienced," Tina Langley, Rice Head Coach, said of Marquette. "You know, that is something that you have to consider but also know that that's why we play the game. And we're very excited to be here. I think the one thing you will find about our team is that we're a very level-headed team, very intelligent team. And as long as we keep our focus on where it needs to be, I think we'll be prepared."
Rice is led by junior guard Erica Ogwumike, Conference USA Player of the Year, and redshirt-sophomore center Nancy Mulkey, Conference USA Defensive Player of the Year.
Ogwumike averages 16.3 points, 10.6 rebounds, and 1.6 steals per game this season. She leads all C-USA players and ranks 14th in the nation with 18 double-doubles.
Mulkey ranks 4th in the nation with 89 blocks this season - despite missing the first eight games of the season. Mulkey, 6'9", anchors an Owls' defense which limited opponents to 52.8 points per game on 35.0% field goal shooting, including 28.4% three-point shooting.
Senior forward Nicole Iademarco averages 9.2 points and 4.5 rebounds per game.
Senior guard Lauren Grigsby earned Conference USA Sixth Player of the Year averaging 7.5 points and 3.2 rebounds per game in 21 minutes off the bench. She's shooting a career-high 44.0% from three-point range this season.
The Golden Eagles are led by an experienced senior class, which features five scorers that average double figures and all own over 1,300 career points led by Big East Player of the Year Natisha Hiedeman with 17.8 points per game and Big East Sixth-Woman of the Year Allazia Blockton, who is Marquette's all-time leading scorer, averaging 14.4 points per contest.
Marquette likes to play up tempo. The Golden Eagles shoot 46.8 percent from the floor and average 83.2 points per game this season while allowing opponents to shoot 37.7% and score 61.0 points per game. Marquette attempts 22.8 threes per game and make 8.6 threes per contest.
"Biggest thing for us is to push tempo, play our pace," Carolyn Kieger, Marquette Coach, said. "If you look at the two teams, that's the biggest glaring difference, is points per game and possessions per game. We have to dictate that and we got to make sure we're scoring quickly.
"I know Rice is a team that likes to use a lot of the shot clock. We need to dictate with our pressure and our defensive energy, make it a full-court game.
"On the flip side of that, we need to dominate the paint battle. They do a really good job going inside and then outside. For us, we've got to make sure we're eliminating points in the paint And making them shoot shots they don't necessarily practice nor do they want on their offense.
Marquette out rebounds its opponents 42.0 to 33.0 per game this season.
Rice averages 66.3 points per game and allows 52.8 points per game. Rice averages 37.4 boards per game compared to opponents' 30.9 rebounds per game.
"I think they're incredibly talented," said Coach Langley. "They have five players on the floor that can score at all times. They play a great tempo, something that I'm sure they're very excited about.
"And I think we have good tempo, as well. I think that people look at our scores sometimes and assume that we play slow. I think we try to play smart. And we will run when we can. And we will continue to do that. But we want to make the best decision each time we go down the floor."
Iademarco added, "Yeah, we play fast and slow. We like to push the pace but then set our offense up. So we just want to focus on us and play our game like Nancy was saying and kind of let the game come to us. I think we're pretty confident in our game and ourselves."
Mulkey is proud to be part of the team that returned Rice to the NCAA Tournament.
"It definitely means a lot," Mulkey acknowledged. "Thirteen years later we're here. So just to finally do that, give back to the university, my teammates, the coaches, the coaching staff, and just everyone a part of our journey here, it means a lot. So, we're just very grateful to be here; and, we're excited for everything that we've done so far."
Rice enters the Tournament on a school record 21-game winning streak, the nation's third-longest active win streak behind Baylor (23) and Quinnipiac (21). The Owls haven't lost since their Dec. 18 setback vs. North Carolina in Myrtle Beach, a span of 93 days entering Friday.
"Focus is the biggest key," Ogwumike said. "We definitely have a mantra of taking it game by game here. Every next game is the most important game, and we try not to look past that. I think that definitely has made us successful with our streak."
The winner of today's game will face the winner of the No. 4 seed and host Texas A&M and No. 13 Wright State on Sunday, March 24 at a time to be determined.
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