Charlotte defeated reigning Conference USA tournament champions Rice (16-8, 11-2) 62-51 during their annual "Play4Kay" game.
“Obviously, this was a heck of a win for us tonight,” Charlotte Head Coach Cara Consuegra said. “I’m not surprised. I’ve been pleased with the way our team has been playing over the past couple of weeks. You could kind of feel this coming.”
The 49ers started the game playing strong, aggressive defense and they didn’t allow Rice to make a field goal until midway through the first quarter. However, the 49ers struggled on offense early as well, scoring only five points in the first five minutes. Behind a strong team defense and quality shooting from sophomore guard Mariah Linney, the 49ers maintained a 12-7 lead at the end of the first quarter.
In the second quarter, Charlotte continued to play aggressive defense, only allowing Rice three made field goals and forcing four turnovers. Additionally, Charlotte forced five second-half shot clock violations, having forced only six throughout the entire matchup. Despite 49ers’ leading scorer Jade Phillips struggling, the Charlotte offense continued to produce at a steady clip as Christian Hithe scored four second-quarter points to guide Charlotte to another 12-point quarter.
“We were incredible defensively,” Consuegra said. “From the start of the game, we were locked in and our urgency was incredible. You cannot be an elite defensive team unless everyone does their job, and that’s what we did tonight.”
The 49ers entered the halftime break with a 24-17 lead in large part due to only giving Rice, C-USA’s second-best free throw shooting team, four trips to the line in the first half.
“In scouting Rice, the way that they like to score is at the rim,” Consuegra said. “We tried to take all that away and make them be a perimeter team. When you do that, they’re not going to get to the line the way they like to.”
Rice came out of the halftime break aggressively attacking the 49ers with their height advantage in the paint. The Owls’ six-foot-nine center Nancy Mulkey scored the first five points of the third quarter, trimming the 49ers’ lead to 24-22. Three minutes into the third quarter, the Owls took their first lead of the game. However, Charlotte responded by going on an 11-1 run, led by Octavia Jett-Wilson and Jazmin Harris, to claim a 40-31 lead with one minute left in the quarter. Freshman guard Cali Konek connected on a last-second layup to give the 49ers a 42-33 lead entering the fourth quarter.
Jett-Wilson propelled Charlotte on a 9-2 run by scoring seven of her 15 points early in the fourth quarter. Down 51-35, Rice put themselves in a deficit too deep to dig themselves out of. Charlotte continued to play suffocating defense while shooting lights out en route to a 62-51 victory.
“I’ve been waiting to beat them; I know we all have,” Jett-Wilson said. “All week, we’ve been hyped to play because we knew we’d prepared ourselves to win this battle.”
Jett-Wilson led all scorers with 15 points on 45 percent field goal shooting and 66 percent three-point shooting.
“[Jett-Wilson] has made me so proud,” Consuegra said. “She has had her adversity and she’s just kept working and preparing herself for this moment. I believe in her so much. For her to have the game she had tonight, we wouldn’t have won without her.”
Phillips garnered the assignment of guarding C-USA’s leading scorer, Erica Ogwumike, who averages 18.2 points per game. Phillips restricted Ogwumike to 14 points on 22 percent field goal shooting and zero percent three-point shooting.
“[Ogwumike] had 14 and nine, which is a victory for us,” Consuegra said. “We made the switch up and put Jade on her because Jade prides herself on playing against the best. She did an incredible job of containing Ogwumike. I don’t think [Phillips] gets enough credit for her defense.”
Furthermore, Hithe made significant contributions for the 49ers in just her second game back from injury. Hithe finished the game with nine points, two rebounds and two steals.
Charlotte looks to carry over its momentum to their next matchup on Thursday, Feb. 20 against the top team in C-USA, Old Dominion.