Head coach Tina Langley began her pregame speech with a familiar mantra: “Do not make this game bigger than it is.” It’s a sentiment she had repeated countless times this season, but now, moments before the conference tournament championship against Middle Tennessee, the game had never been bigger.
“We make every game the biggest game of the year, so when you get to these moments, it’s just another game.” Langley’s coaching philosophy isn’t particularly flashy. It doesn’t leave room for grand pronouncements or juicy sound bites. Even when media members go fishing for one — “Do you like being the underdog?” — Langley doesn’t bite. “I don’t really think about it,” she says. “Are they a higher seed? Are we a higher seed? They’re just the next person in front of us on our schedule.”
It’s a mentality that — game by game, win by win — helped build the greatest season in program history, one in which Rice finished with a program-best 28 wins and made its first NCAA Tournament appearance in over a decade. Rice nearly pulled off the upset too, falling in overtime to No. 5-ranked Marquette in the first round.
The Owls became the first team in Conference USA (C-USA) history to go undefeated in league play and then win the conference tournament — a comeback victory over Middle Tennessee, 69-54. They went on a record 21-game win streak that extended into the postseason and, in the process, now own the Tudor Fieldhouse attendance record (2,606).
In addition to their many team achievements, the Owls also racked up individual honors. Senior Erica Ogwumike was named the C-USA
Player of the Year; junior Nancy Mulkey was named Defensive Player of the Year; and senior Lauren Grigsby was named Sixth Player of the Year. Langley was named C-USA Coach of the Year.
Ogwumike, who averaged a double-double on the season, says the team never had trouble embracing Langley’s “one game at a time” mentality. As if they had a choice. “You’ve met Coach Langley,” Ogwumike says with a smile. “We know if she believes it, we should believe it.” And they did.