Jessica Kuster went out with her typical double-double performance, but the Rice women’s basketball team could not overcome Florida International Tuesday in the opening round of the Conference USA Tournament.
The Panthers shot 53 percent from the field and pulled away in the second half during the 85-65 victory in El Paso. The 13th seeded Panthers earned a date with No. 5 seed East Carolina on Wednesday. No. 12 seed Rice finished the season with a 13-17 record.
Kuster scored 26 points and recorded 11 rebounds. The senior from San Antonio broke one more record on her way out. Her sixth rebound broke the C-USA career rebounding mark. She finished with five more for a total of 1,376. TCU’s Sandora Irvin previously held the record.
This season Kuster has become Rice’s all-time leader in points, rebounds, made field goals and made free throws. She has also broken the Rice single-season records in total points and rebounds.
On Sunday, Kuster was named First Team All-C-USA for the fourth straight year. She was just the third player in conference history to accomplish that feat. She was also named to the First Team C-USA All-Defensive team for the fourth straight season. No other player has ever been honored on the defensive team four times.
This afternoon’s game was close for awhile. A Nakachi Maduka layup made it a 14-12 Panthers lead just over seven minutes into the game. FIU scored eight of the next 10 points to push the lead to 8, but the Owls scored eight straight to tie it up. Maduka started the spurt with a lay-up and Kuster followed with a jumper. A Jasmine Goodwine lay-in and another Kuster jumper completed the run.
The Panthers responded with consecutive 3-pointers by Taylor Shade, Katrina Epnere and Epnere again to go ahead by nine. They led 37-28 at halftime.
The teams traded off scoring in the second half. A Kuster free throw made it a 46-39 game with 14:49 left. The Panthers scored the next seven points, and Rice couldn’t get the lead back into single digits the rest of the game.
The Panthers made 18 of 23 free throws and hit five first-half 3 pointers. Rice was just 1 of 8 from 3-point land.
Maduka scored 11 while Maya Adetula and Christal Porter had 9 apiece for Rice. Porter also added 7 rebounds. Jerica Cooley led FIU with 20 points.
Rice beat FIU 59-41 on the road in the Conference USA opener. The Owls started conference play 3-1, but only won three more games the rest of the season. Kuster is the only senior on the roster.