RENO - Rice broke its semifinal basketball game open midway through the second half Friday and then withstood a barrage of 3-point shots to defeat San Jose State, 76-68, in the WAC Women's Basketball Tournament at Lawlor Events Center.
The Owls (23-8) relied on speed and its inside game in the second half to pull away from the Spartans (18-12) to win their 11th straight game.
Rice faces Louisiana Tech at noon today for the WAC women's championship.
Rice coach Chrisy McKinney said her team is looking forward to playing the Techsters. During the season, the teams split their two games.
"I think we're one of the deepest teams in the league," she said when assessing the Owls' chances against Tech.
As for the Owls' win against San Jose, McKinney said defense won the game.
"It was obvious our defense again. Our post defense was good," she said, explaining how Rice shut down the Spartans' Amber Jackson and Nica Gemo.
Rice, though, couldn't stop Lindsay Harris who tied a San Jose record with 15 free throws.
Rice held on to a slim 26-25 lead at halftime, but the Owls, the second seeded team in the tournament, began the second half with a 9-1 run capped by Michelle Woods' 3-pointer
Forward Lauren Neaves struggled with her inside game in the first half, but her shots began to fall within the paint in the second half. She also pulled down three key rebounds to keep the Spartans off the board.
Neaves led the Owls with 18 points.
Meanwhile, Krystal Frazier provided the quickness Rice missed in the first half. Frazier took advantage of some letdowns by San Jose on defense and scored six quick points off turnovers.
"The steals come from our defense. A lot of teams just relax (against us)," she said.
San Jose struggled in the second half, missing a handful of easy layups and turning the ball over at critical times.
The Owls had their biggest lead, 53-38, with 8:21 left in the game after Frazier twisted for a successful off balance shot and was fouled. Frazier added 16 points for the Owls.
San Jose kept chipping away at the lead as Jessica Kellogg drained a pair of treys in the final two minutes. She led all scorers with 19 points.
The Spartans stormed back after being behind by as many as seven points in the first half.
Rice had taken a 25-18 lead on Woods' layup with 1:56 remaining before intermissions.
Kellogg, who had a pair of free throws to help cut the lead, also swished a 3-pointer with time expiring to cut Rice's lead to 26-25.
Both teams fought through a sluggish first half with neither teams shooting above 30 percent from the floor. Rice struggled with a 28.6 percent shooting average while San Jose finished the first half shooting 27.3 percent.
Rice, though, improved its shooting percentage in the second half with a 48 percent effort.
Time after time, neither team could find the range. Rice managed only eight field goals, and San Jose wasn't much better with nine.
The Spartans had taken a 6-3 lead almost six minutes into the game, but Neaves sunk a free throw and then hit a 12-foot jumper to tie the game for the second time. She led Rice with eight first half points.
In a game of cat and mouse, the Spartans moved out in front on Kellogg's first trey of the afternoon, but Rice caught fire.
The Lady Owls surged ahead on a 7-0 run before the Spartans made a point.
After San Jose tied the game for the fourth time, 15-15, with 6:25 left, Frazier used her quickness to convert three turnovers into easy layups.