After watching two of her older sisters play in multiple Final Fours, Rice’s Erica Ogwumike is eager to begin her own NCAA Tournament experience.
Ogwumike is the Conference USA player of the year and a big reason why No. 21 Rice (28-3) carries a 21-game winning streak into the NCAA Tournament. She’s the younger sister of WNBA No. 1 overall draft picks Nneka Ogwumike and Chiney Ogwumike.
“It’s really awesome to be in this position right now,” the Rice junior said. “Growing up, I’ve seen my sisters go through the NCAA Tournament and I kind of shockingly thought it was normal. When I became a D1 player, I didn’t realize how much work you have to put in to get there.”
Rice faces Marquette (26-7) on Friday at College Station, Texas.
Other notable women’s basketball players from one-bid leagues include Quinnipiac’s Jen Fay and Princeton’s Bella Alarie. Fay has helped Quinnipiac advance beyond the first round each of the last two years, while Alarie is the daughter of former Duke star and NBA first-round draft pick Mark Alarie.
Erica Ogwumike is a different type of player from her sisters who starred at Stanford. While Chiney is 6-foot-4 and Nneka is 6-2, Erica’s a 5-9 guard. Though she rebounds like her siblings, leading Conference USA with 10.8 boards per game.
“I just deal with what I have,” said Ogwumike, who also averages 16.3 points for Rice. “I’m fortunate to be 5-9 because I think in the regular world that’s pretty tall, but in the basketball world (it’s not) and of course in my household, other than my mom, I’m the shortest. I always make jokes and say my sisters stole my meals as a kid or something, and that’s the only reason they got that tall.”
There actually are two Ogwumike sisters on Rice’s roster. Olivia Ogwumike is a 5-11 senior forward who has played nine games while battling injuries this season. Both started their careers at Pepperdine before transferring to Rice.
The older Ogwumikes — to no surprise — have given their siblings a bit of tournament advice.
“The main things they’re saying is just to enjoy the moment and to really just focus on the moment because it’s an experience not a lot of people get to experience,” Erica Ogwumike said.
Some other women’s players from one-bid leagues who bear watching this week.
BELLA ALARIE (guard/forward, Princeton)
First game: Saturday vs. Kentucky at Raleigh, North Carolina
Alarie has been named Ivy League player of the year each of the last two seasons. The 6-4 junior missed nine games with a broken bone in her right arm but has averaged 23 points and 10.4 rebounds
MORGAN BERTSCH (forward, UC Davis)
First game: Saturday vs. Stanford at Stanford, California
Bertsch is the Big West Conference player of the year and the leading scorer in UC Davis history. The 6-4 fifth-year senior averages 23.5 points to rank fourth among all Division I players. Bertsch had 16 points in a 71-43 loss to Stanford, which faces UC Davis in the first round.
KeKe CALLOWAY (guard, Mercer)
First game: Friday vs. Iowa at Iowa City, Iowa
This 5-9 senior averages 17.9 points and scored 30 points in the Southern Conference Tournament final. Southern Conference media chose Calloway as the league’s player of the year, while the coaches opted for Mercer teammate Amanda Thompson instead.
BRE CAVANAUGH (guard, Fordham)
First game: Saturday vs. Syracuse at Syracuse, New York
Cavanaugh, a 5-8 sophomore, earned first-team all-Atlantic 10 honors and ranks second in the conference in scoring (17.3). Cavanaugh scored 22 points in the Atlantic 10 Tournament championship game. She had 18 points in a loss to Texas.
RONJANAE DeGRAY (forward, Little Rock)
First game: Saturday vs. Gonzaga at Corvallis, Oregon
DeGray is a co-Sun Belt Conference player of the year. The 6-foot senior has averaged 14.8 points and 7 rebounds while playing alongside her twin sister, Raeyana DeGray. She has scored at least 19 points in each of her last three games.
JEN FAY (forward, Quinnipiac)
First game: Saturday vs. South Dakota State at Syracuse, New York
This 6-foot fifth-year senior scored 20 points in an NCAA Tournament victory over Marquette two years ago during Quinnipiac’s Cinderella run to a regional semifinal. She had 19 points last season in a first-round triumph over Miami. She had 25 points in Quinnipiac’s Metro Atlantic Athletic Conference Tournament championship game last week.
DARBY MAGGARD (guard, Belmont)
First game: Friday vs. South Carolina at Charlotte, North Carolina
Maggard has earned first-team all-Ohio Valley Conference honors four straight years and was named player of the year this season. The 5-5 senior has made 427 career 3-pointers to rank fourth in Division I women’s history. She’s the only Division I women’s player ever to collect both 400 career 3-pointers and 650 career assists.
BIANCA MILLAN (guard, Maine)
First game: Saturday vs. North Carolina State at Raleigh, North Carolina
Millan is the America East Conference’s overall player of the year and defensive player of the year. The 6-1 junior averages 17.6 points and 2.8 steals. This tournament gives Millan a chance at revenge after she scored just six points in an 84-46 regular-season loss to North Carolina State.
BROOKE SALAS (guard, New Mexico State)
First game: Saturday vs. Iowa State at Ames, Iowa
Salas has been named Western Athletic Conference player of the year each of the last two seasons. She also was the league’s defensive player of the year this season. The 5-11 senior averages 19.1 points, 11.1 rebounds, 2.9 assists, 2.5 steals and 1.7 blocks.
NASRIN ULEL (guard/forward, Florida Gulf Coast)
First game: Friday vs. Miami at Coral Gables, Florida
Ulel is the Atlantic Sun Conference player of the year. The 5-9 junior averages 14.9 points and has made 79 3-point baskets. She started and scored nine points last season in FGCU’s NCAA Tournament first-round upset of Missouri.