FRISCO, Texas -- Nancy Mulkey scored 24 points and No. 24 Rice rallied in the second half to defeat Middle Tennessee 69-54 in the Conference USA championship game on Saturday for the Owls' third NCAA Tournament berth and school-record 21st straight win.
Erica Ogwumike, the C-USA player of the year, added 15 points despite dealing with foul trouble. Jasmine Smith and Nicole Iademarco had 10 points apiece for the Owls (28-3), who tied Quinnipiac for the second-longest winning streak in the country behind Baylor (23).
Mulkey, a redshirt sophomore transfer from Oklahoma, was named the tournament Most Valuable Player after blocking eight shots to give her a school record 89 for the season.
For the second-straight game the Owls trailed by 10 points in the first half as Alex Johnson had 16 of her 27 points for the Blue Raiders (22-10). A late Mulkey jumper had Rice down 34-26 at the break.
Middle Tennessee was still up by eight when Rice went on a 14-2 run through the middle of the third quarter. Ogwumike contributed a 3-point play but also picked up her third foul. Mulkey pulled the Owls within one, Sydne Wiggins hit a jumper for the lead and Lauren Grigsby capped it with a 3-pointer to make it 45-41 with a minute left in the quarter.
Midway through the fourth quarter the Blue Raiders were within three but Rice closed on a 15-3 run, 10 of the points coming from the foul line. Other than Johnson's 3-point play, Middle Tennessee closed the game by going 1 of 7.
In putting together just the league's third unbeaten season, Rice won 60-47 at Middle Tennessee. The Owls' winning streak matches the 2007-08 UTEP team for the conference record. Rice last appeared in the Conference USA title game in 2007 but its first two NCAA appearances came out of the Western Athletic Conference in 2000 and 2005.