Rice overpowers Ole’ Miss to secure the Women’s NIT title

Nancy Mulkey was an all-category force for Rice on Sunday, finishing with 19 points, 12 rebounds and seven blocked shots to guide the Owls to a 71-58 victory over Ole Miss in the championship game of the 2021 Postseason WNIT.

The 6-foot-9 senior center, who was scoreless in Rice’s semifinal win over Delaware on Friday, was named MVP of the all-tournament team and went 9-for-11 shooting from the field as the Owls (23-4) became the first team from Conference USA to win the Postseason WNIT. Sophomore Lauren Schwartz also scored 19 points for Rice.

Ole Miss (15-12) staged an impressive fourth-quarter comeback and got within four points, 58-54, but Rice responded with six free throws to go ahead again by double figures and got a huge baseline jumper from sophomore Katelyn Crosthwait with 2:01 to go making it 66-56. The Owls finished the game going a sterling 17-for-17 from the free-throw line.

Ole Miss was a chilly 3-for-17 from field to start, but eight offensive rebounds kept the Rebels in the fray, and they trailed just 17-13 after one quarter. Rice scored four quick points in second quarter to force an Ole Miss timeout; the Owls went up  27-17 on two Haylee Swayze free throws at 5:12 of the second and led 34-23 at halftime.

Rice extended to a 16-point lead at 8:22 of the third quarter and were up 52-40 entering the fourth quarter. Ole Miss then fought back, trailing 58-50 after a layup from Shakira Austin at 5:11; a Rice turnover and Snudda Collins jumper made it 58-52 at 4:56, and Donnetta Johnson hit a layup to draw the Rebels within 58-54 at the 4:25 mark of the final quarter.

In the next minute and a half, Jasmine Smith made four free throws and Crosthwait added two more, making it 64-54 at 2:49 to go. The big baseline jumper by Crosthwait at 2:01 pushed it to 66-56, and the final dagger came from Sydne Wiggins, who drained a 3-pointer under duress with 38 seconds left.

Ole Miss’ final comeback hopes were hampered by a lack of 3-point shooting, as the team averaged just four made 3’s per contest and was 0-for-6 in the WNIT final.

For Rice, Smith had 11 points and nine rebounds. The Owls survived making 24 turnovers by shooting 50 percent from field and claiming an 18-7 edgier assists.

Austin had 25 points and nine rebounds for the Rebels; Johnson had eight points and nine rebounds and Madison Scott scored seven points. Ole Miss, looking to be the first SEC team since Auburn in 2003 to win the Postseason WNIT, shot 30 percent from field and had a 19-7 lead in offensive rebounds.