Owls' 24-11 run late secures NCAA tourney bid

Updated: March 12, 2005, 10:13 PM ET
Associated Press

RENO, Nev. -- Rice tied Louisiana Tech for the regular-season title, giving the Owls enough confidence to knock off the three-time defending champs in the Western Athletic Conference tournament.

MVP Lauren Neaves led six Rice players in double figures with 22 points and grabbed 12 rebounds Saturday in the 86-66 victory that guarantees the Lady Owls a spot in the NCAA tournament.

"We beat La Tech 10 days ago at our place and the game at their place was very, very close. So I think we knew we could play with them,'' said Cristy McKinney, Rice's all-time winningest coach with a record of 216-138 in 12 seasons.

Rice and La. Tech shared the WAC's regular-season title with 14-4 conference records.

Michelle Woods had 14 points and nine rebounds, Maudess Fulton and Eshombi Singleton 12 points apiece and Krystal Frazier and Amber Cunningham 11 each for Rice (24-8), which won its 12th straight after starting the season 3-4.

"From the beginning, we realized what our potential was and after a lot of trials and tribulations, we put together something," Woods said. "I'm so ecstatic right now."

Erica Taylor and Tasha Crain had 14 points each for Louisiana Tech (20-9), which had to go to double overtime Friday to defeat Fresno State 92-87 in the semifinals. Both were selected to the all-tournament team along with Frazier and Fresno's Miranda Swearengin.

"We played 50 minutes yesterday," Taylor said. "I think fatigue played a factor. I know it did with me. My mind said go but my body said no.''

Tech coach Kurt Budke said he thinks the Lady Techsters still should get an at-large bid to the NCAA tournament.

"I think we should have three teams (in the tournament)," he said. "We are the seventh-ranked conference in the country and I know the sixth-place conference will have four or five teams in."

Neaves made 6-of-20 field goals and all 10 free-throw attempts for the Lady Owls, who finished 21-of-22 from the line. They outrebounded Tech 49-36 and outscored them 24-11 the final 6 minutes of an otherwise close game.

"We played hard the whole game,'' said Neaves, who posted her 11th double-double of the season. "We had the mentality that it was zero-zero no matter how high the lead got. I think that is why we did so well."

Cunningham hit consecutive 3-pointers as Rice opened the second half with a 10-2 run to take a 46-37 lead. The Lady Owls went up 49-39 when Neaves was fouled on a basket inside and converted a 3-point play with 15:15 left.

Louisiana Tech produced a 9-2 run to cut the lead to 51-48 on Taylor's free throws at 12:09. But Neaves converted another three-point play, and Woods and Fraizer made consecutive 3-point goals to spark a 17-7 run that put Rice ahead 68-55.

Singleton made four free throws and a 3-pointer to give Rice a 79-59 lead at 2:35.

Rice led 36-35 at the half.


Copyright 2005 by The Associated Press