Women’s basketball prepares for height disadvantage against Rice


Photo by Elena Fiegen

Marquette women’s basketball enters Friday’s NCAA Tournament game in a familiar position. It’s their third consecutive appearance in the tournament and second time in three years as a No. 5 seed.

“It goes to show that we can play with anybody,” senior guard Natisha Hiedeman said. “One of our strengths (is) that we’re maturing each year and that we’re continuing to grow and not settling for what we’ve already accomplished.”

But head coach Carolyn Kieger will not have an easy task, taking on the Rice University Owls Friday afternoon.

Rice is ranked in the Associated Press Poll and went undefeated in conference play as part of Conference USA.

“You never want to take an opponent lightly,” Kieger said. “Rice is a great team, so we have to go down there with our best effort. … At this point in the year, anybody can win. Anybody can take any game at any moment.”

Rice redshirt sophomore Nancy Mulkey could be especially challenging for the Golden Eagles. The 6-foot-9 center averages 13.7 points, 5.6 points and nearly four blocks. nearly four blocks per game, 5.6 rebounds and 13.7 points per contest. The University of Oklahoma transfer has started in 23 games this season and shoots at a 57 percent clip.

This could be problematic for the Golden Eagles’ defense, who struggled last season in the NCAA Tournament against Louisville because of its lack of height. This time around, MU will not have senior forward Erika Davenport, who suffered a season-ending knee injury.

Kieger said her team will need to maintain its fast-paced offense to keep Mulkey out of her comfort zone.

“We’re going to use our speed,” Hiedeman said. “We’re going to play our game.”

But Mulkey is not the only threat. Erica Ogwumike averages 16.3 points and 10.6 rebounds while shooting 46 percent from the floor.

“We have to throw different people at her,” Kieger said. “She’s a great attacker. She’s a phenomenal rebounder at that guard spot.”

MU will have an advantage in experience. This game will be Rice’s first-ever NCAA Tournament berth.

“With the veteran group, we’ve been through this before,” Kieger said. “We know what to expect. We know what media’s like. We know what the practices are like, so going down there, this hopefully is like a walk in the park for us for this first round game.”

Rice will be playing fewer than two hours from its campus, but Hiedeman and Kieger said it won’t be an intimidating factor, though.

“Our girls love a challenge,” Kieger said. “They love a crowd. They love an atmosphere, whether they’re cheering for or against us.”

The game comes following a 74-73 loss to DePaul in the BIG EAST Championship March 12 and a drop to No. 18 in the AP Poll. A win against DePaul likely would’ve allowed Marquette to host the first two rounds of the tournament.

“We can’t think of anything in the past,” Kieger said. “We can’t think of injuries, conference tournament. The only thing that’s ahead of us is one game at a time.”

“We just have to have each other’s back and put the pedal to the medal,” Hiedeman said.

The Golden Eagles (26-7, 15-3 BIG EAST) play Friday at Reed Arena. The game is slated for 1 p.m. Central Standard Time.

The team’s aspirations go beyond just this game, though. The Golden Eagles are looking to make it to their first Sweet 16 in program history.

“(The Sweet 16) is what we want to accomplish and that’s our goal,” Hiedeman. said. “(I want to go) as far as possible. (A National) Championship.”