Issues with a zone defense continued to plague the University of Arkansas at Little Rock women's team in its game against Rice on Saturday.
Trying to defend Erica Ogwumike was just as challenging.
The junior guard scored a game-high 21 points and pulled down 19 rebounds as the Owls wiped away an early deficit to beat the Trojans 79-65 at the Jack Stephens Center.
Rice (1-2) had four players finish with at least 10 points, with freshman guard Jasmine Smith chipping in with 17 points, including 3 three-pointers. Guards Shani Rainey and Haylee Swayze each added 11 points, but it was Ogwumike at the controls for Rice.
Ogwumike, the Conference USA Preseason Player of the Year and younger sister of WNBA standouts Nneka and Chiney Ogwumike, shot 8 of 11 from the floor, handed out 5 assists and blocked a shot.
"Ogwumike is a good player, and we knew she would be," UALR Coach Joe Foley said. "[Raeyana DeGray] is probably our best defensive player, but when she got two fouls trying to guard [Ogwumike] and we had to take her out, that really opened things up. If you're going to be a good team, you've got to have a player like that."
UALR (2-1) also struggled against a 2-3 zone for a third consecutive game. The Trojans overcame Louisiana Tech and Florida Atlantic by forcing a combined 49 turnovers. UALR forced 19 against Rice, but it wasn't enough.
The Owls finished 29 of 50 (58 percent) from the field, including nine three-pointers. UALR, which got a 19-point effort from sophomore forward Teal Battle, was just 26 of 70 (37 percent) for the game.
Senior forwards Ronjanae DeGray and Raeyana DeGray added 12 and 10 points, respectively. UALR hit only 4 of 13 three-pointers.
Rice started off in a man-to-man defense but switched to zone four possessions later after UALR ran out to a quick lead. Both junior Kyra Collier and Raeyana DeGray were forced to sit for much of the opening quarter after picking up two fouls.
"That really hurt us," Foley said of the duo's foul trouble. "When we had to take those two out, that's when they went on their run. It gave them a lot of confidence."
The Owls, who hit all five of their three-point attempts in the opening quarter, led by as many as 19 points in the half thanks to a pair of timely runs. UALR held a 9-5 lead after Sydney Chastain's three-pointer with 5:22 to go in the first period, but Rice scored 12 of the next 15 points to take control. Battle eventually tied the game at 17-17 with a putback for UALR.
Rice then reeled off 12 of the first 14 points of the second quarter to open a 38-19 lead. UALR managed to trim its deficit to 42-30 on Ronjanae DeGray's jumper late in the quarter and was down 46-32 at halftime.
The Trojans used an 8-2 burst at the start of the third quarter to whittle their deficit to 48-40, but Smith and Ogwumike scored 15 of the next 19 points, with Ogwumike's three-pointer with 1:23 left in the third quarter pushing Rice's lead to 19.
"We got off to a terrible start and let them hit way too many threes," Foley said. "That zone is gonna be a nemesis for a while. We're struggling hitting shots right now."
Sports on 11/18/2018