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MEMPHIS, Tenn. (March 7, 2012) - Rice forward Jessica Kuster posted a double-double with 23 points and 17 rebounds as the fifth-seeded Owls rolled past No. 12 seed Houston, 64-50, in the first round of the 2012 Conference USA Women's Basketball Championship on Wednesday evening at the University of Memphis' Elma Roane Fieldhouse.

The Owls clung to a 34-32 lead at the end of the first half, but held the Cougars to just five field goals in the final frame to earn a three-game sweep of their cross-town rivals. Kuster made the most of her 12 opportunities from the free-throw line with 11 makes and her rebound total is tied for the seventh most in C-USA Championship history.

With the win, Rice improves to 16-14 on the year and advances to take on fourth-seeded UAB (18-10) on Thursday in the quarterfinals. Tipoff for that game is slated for 7:30 p.m. Houston, which won the C-USA regular-season title and earned an at-large spot in the NCAA Tournament a year ago, concluded the 2011-12 season with a 3-26 overall record.

Kuster was one of three Rice starters to finish with double-digit scoring totals the as the backcourt tandem of D'Frantz Smart and Jessica Goswitz combined for 25. Smart had 10 points while posting game-high honors with eight assists and three steals. Goswitz, meanwhile, finished with 15 points - including four 3-pointers - and a pair of steals. Nakachi Maduka came off the Owls' bench to tally 11 rebounds, four points, two assists and a steal.

As a team, Rice hit just 30.2 percent of its field goals (19-of-63). The difference in the game, however, came on the glass as the Owls out-rebounded Houston, 50-39. Nineteen of Rice's rebounds were of the offensive variety which led to 17 second-chance points.  The Cougars connected at a .385 clip (20-of-52), but hit just 10-of-24 free throws (.417) while committing 16 turnovers on the night.

After trading baskets early in the ballgame, Rice began to pull away and held a 10-point lead at 22-12 with 8:50 to play in the first half. From there, Houston responded with an 18-7 rally over the next 7:01 to take a 30-29 advantage with 1:49 to go before the half.  Following a 3-pointer by Smart and a layup by Rice's Michelle White, the Owls' Candace Ashford hit a jumper with 37 seconds to play before halftime to give the higher-seeded team the lead for good.

Rice opened the second half with an 8-0 run to stretch the lead to 10 at 42-32 and did not allow a Houston field goal until the 12:20 mark when Lawson laid one off the glass to make it 46-36. Kuster sparked a 6-0 rally with a pair of free throws 20 seconds later and the Cougars would get no closer than 11 the rest of the way.

With the Owls leading 54-43 with 7:27 remaining in regulation, Amenemope McKinney and Maya Adetula hit back-to-back layups to make it 58-43 and Rice led by as many as 19 following a pair of Smart free throws with 2:10 on the clock. Houston scored the final five points of the game as Lawson sandwiched a free throw and a layup around a Roxana Button jumper to account for the final score.

Button led Houston with 19 points after hitting 7-of-16 field goals and converting 5-of-8 free throws. Lawson and Danielle Parks shared team-high rebounding honors with nine each, Michelle White had a Cougar-best three assists and Voché Martin had two of Houston's four steals.

2012 C-USA Championship Schedule

Elma Roane Fieldhouse & FedExforum

Memphis, Tenn.

FIRST ROUNDS - Wednesday, March 7

Morning Session

Game 1:   (11) East Carolina 59, (6) Tulsa 49

Game 2:   (10) SMU 53, (7) Marshall 52

Afternoon Session

Game 3:   (9) Southern Miss 71, (8) UCF 49 

Game 4:   (5) Rice 64, (12) Houston 50

QUARTERFINALS - Thursday, March 8

Morning Session

Game 5:   (11) East Carolina vs. (3) Tulane                            11 a.m. 

Game 6:   (10) SMU vs. (2) Memphis                                    1:30 p.m. 

Afternoon Session

Game 7:   (9) Southern Miss vs. (1) UTEP                                  5 p.m. 

Game 8:   (5) Rice vs. (4) UAB                                                    7:30 p.m. 

All games on Thursday can be viewed on the C-USA Digital Network - http://www.conferenceusa.com/championships/w-baskbl-championship-12.html <http://mail.c-usa.org/exchweb/bin/redir.asp?URL=http://www.conferenceusa.com/championships/w-baskbl-championship-12.html


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