Charlotte (12-9, 4-5 C-USA) fell to Conference USA leader Rice (17-3, 8-0 C-USA) 61-51 in Houston, Texas on Thursday night. The loss dropped the 49ers road record to 1-8.
The 49ers finished the game with two players in double-figures, sophomore guards Octavia Jett-Wilson and Mariah Linney. Jett-Wilson scored 12 points and Linney added 10 points. Senior Laia Raventós registered eight points to go along with four assists and three steals.
Rice had two players in double-figures, led by Erica Ogwumike who recorded a game-high 22 points to go along with 15 rebounds. The reigning Conference USA player of the week Nancy Mulkey added 18 points.
Rice began the game with a quick 4-0 lead before Raventós found Linney in the corner for a three-pointer at the 8:28 mark, cutting the margin to one. The Owls then went on a 6-0 run to extend their lead to seven points with 6:46 remaining in the first quarter. Linney hit another three to cut the deficit to four points. Three-straight points by Nicole Iademarco widened the deficit back to seven, 13-6, entering the last four minutes. Iademarco’s layup gave the Owls a 17-8 lead with about 2:16 left in the first quarter. The 49ers scored the final seven points in the period to cut the deficit to two at 17-15 at the end of the first quarter.
Jett-Wilson extended the Niner run to nine straight points, causing the only tie in the game at 17-17 with 9:22 remaining in the second quarter. Two straight layups by Mulkey and two free-throws from Ogwumike extended the Owls lead to six. Ka’Neeshia Brown hit a jumper to stop the Owls run. Brown’s jumper started another run for the 49ers, overcoming the deficit and taking its first lead 25-24 with 2:04 remaining in the first half. Rice’s Jasmine Smith banked in a three-pointer at the buzzer, putting Rice in front 27-25 at halftime.
The teams went back-and-forth to start the third quarter. Charlotte was down 34-33 with 6:32 remaining in the third quarter. Mulkey connected on a jumper on Rice’s next possession but a Jazmin Harris layup and a Raventos jumper gave the 49ers a 37-36 lead with 5:03 left. Ogwumike hit a three in the corner at the 3:43 mark, to take the lead back for the Owls. The Owls outscored the 49ers 11-6 over the final 3:43. Rice took a 47-43 lead heading into the fourth quarter.
The Owls scored the first six points of the fourth quarter which extended their lead to ten. Linney then took control with a layup, making it a single digit difference again. A Haylee Swayze jumper gave the Owls a ten-point lead, 55-45, with 5:26 left in regulation but the Niners responded with a 6-0 run to cut the deficit to 55-51 with 3:15 remaining. The Charlotte offense could not convert the rest of the game and the Owls knocked down a jumper and four free throws to extend their lead at the end of the game.
“I thought for the most part in this game our team played very well,” Charlotte coach Cara Consuegra said. “We put ourselves in a position to win the game. The start of the fourth quarter offensively for us was really the difference maker, but at the same time, we didn’t allow that to close the game. We still fought back, we still showed great grit, toughness and just stayed confident throughout the entire game. This was a battle tonight and I think we showed that if we continue to believe in each other and we continue to fight like that, we can have an opportunity to be in every game we play the rest of this year.”
Charlotte will stay in Texas to take on North Texas on Saturday, Feb. 2. Tip-off is set for 4 p.m.