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Rice women off to superb start in Conference USA

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Rice’s 74-68 overtime win against Marshall on Saturday gave the Owls its best Conference USA start since the university joined the conference in 2005.

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Adding to the pleasantries was Monday’s announcement that Rice forward Jessica Kuster was named the Conference USA Player of the Week. Kuster scored 47 points, grabbed 32 rebounds and blocked five shots in wins over Louisiana Tech and Marshall last week.

Rice is 10-7, 3-1 in Conference USA after the home sweep. Only Middle Tennessee State (4-0) has not lost in conference. Four other teams are 3-1 including Rice’s next two opponents, East Carolina and Charlotte. Rice plays at East Carolina Wednesday and at Charlotte Saturday. The next home game is Tulane on Jan. 29.

Rice is in the top 5 of only three C-USA statistical categories, two of which involving rebound. They are third in defensive rebounding and fifth in offensive rebounding and 3-point defense.

Even without gaudy stats in other categories, the Owls are finding ways to win. Kuster hit two free throws with 29 seconds to go in regulation to tie the game with Marshall Saturday. The Herd were unable to get a good look to win the game. In overtime, Rice scored the first seven points and never looked back.

Freshman point guard Maya Hawkins scored a career-high 20 points and Reem Moussa added six assists. Kuster had 26 points and 17 rebounds.

It’s the second time Kuster won the C-USA award this season and her third career award. The San Antonio native shot 51 percent for the week and was a perfect 6-for-6 from the free throw line.

It also was a record week for Kuster. The senior became No. 1 in school history in rebounds during the second half of the Louisiana Tech game. She passed Lauren Neaves when she collected rebound No. 1,191.

Kuster then moved up to No. 2 in Rice University career points, overtaking Holly Jones (1,791 points) against Marshall. She needs 52 more points to surpass Rice all-time leading scorer Pat Krieger.

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