Arizona State (11-11, 6-9 Pac-12) ended its run at a WNIT Championship with a poor showing in the fourth quarter when they fell 48-36 to Rice (19-4, 12-2 C-USA).
In the first round matchup on Friday morning, the Owls outscored the Sun Devils 18-5 in the final period. ASU shot just 10 percent (2-20) from the field, while Rice only missed five shots in the closing 10 minutes.
“We always talk about who we are,” ASU head coach Charli Turner Thorne said. “We weren’t going to show up magically in the NIT and be this great and efficient offensive team.”
Both teams had to shake off the postseason jitters in the first quarter. The Owls and ASU shot a combined 4-25 (16 percent) from the field in the opening frame, only scoring a total of nine points and turning the ball over 10 times.
At halftime, Rice held a three-point advantage. The bad news for ASU was its earlier foul trouble.
With one second left in the first half, Taya Hanson picked up her second foul, joining Sydnei Caldwell, Eboni Walker and Bre’yanna Sanders. After the first 20 minutes, Arizona State had twice as many fouls (12) as Rice (six).
With multiple players concerned with their fouls, freshman forward Maggie Besselink continued her late-season success. Besselink finished the contest with team-highs of nine points and seven rebounds.
A big point of emphasis coming into Friday morning’s game was how Arizona State was going to handle Rice’s 6-foot-9 center Nancy Mulkey since ASU’s tallest player is Imogen Greenslade at 6-foot-4.
Mulkey, who averaged 15.7 points and 8.7 rebounds per game, hit five of her last six shots to give her 16 points, seven rebounds and a game-high five blocks.
“We figured she was going to get some of hers,” Turner Thorne said of Mulkey’s performance. “You just couldn’t have other breakdowns.”
In what was a back-and-forth affair for the first 30 minutes, it did not turn ASU’s way despite winning the turnover battle (20-17) and making one more shot from behind the arc.
While this may have been the last game with championship-implications for ASU, they will officially finish their season with a consolation game on Saturday morning against Missouri at 9 a.m. local time.