By Jim Henry
Globe Sports Editor
Erin Rice’s last four years have flown by.
“I can’t believe it actually,” she said. “Unfortunately Thursday has to come. I’m going to cherish that moment. It’s been quick.”
Rice, 6-foot-2 senior forward, plays her final home game for Missouri Southern tonight when the Lions battle Central Oklahoma in the Leggett & Platt Athletic Center.
Rice, from Cole Camp, Mo., has played in all 104 games during the last four seasons, and she ranks ninth on the Lions’ career scoring list with 1,153 points. She’s the Lions’ first 1,000-point scorer since Katie Gariss in 2002 and just the third in the last 17 seasons.
“I do remember a lot of my freshman year,” Rice said. “I was just a role player. The only way I got to score was off my rebounds. I just had to figure out how to score on my own. Now we actually run plays for me.
“Don’t ask me about my sophomore or junior year though. Those were a blur. You remember your first year and your last.”
Rice first came to Missouri Southern for basketball camps before her junior and senior years in high school.
“What a phenomenal career she’s had,” Lions coach Maryann Mitts said. “She is an exceptional talent. When she plays well, she’s one of the best there’s ever been at Missouri Southern. She’s been hampered by injuries. I’d like to have seen what kind of player she would have been had she not been recovering from injuries during the offseason.”
“She’s a versatile player. Not very many players at her size can play the guard position and handle the ball as well as she does and shoot it as well as she does.”
Her accomplishments certainly are not limited to the basketball court.
“She’s a leader on campus,” Mitts said. “Everybody knows her. Everyone likes her. She’s the epitome of what we like to portray in the classroom and in community service. She’s a very giving person.”
Rice fired in 28 points in Saturday night’s 62-55 loss to Emporia State, hitting 11-of-15 field goals, her only attempt from 3-point range and 5-of-6 free throws. She also had five steals, three rebounds and a blocked shot in 32 minutes.
Rice’s 28 points are two below her career high against Washburn two years ago and boosted her season average to 9.8 overall and 10.8 in league games.
It’s been an up-and-down 2013 for Rice, who scored in double figures the first five games of January, in single digits the next six games and then double figures the last three games.
“I’m playing a lot better now than I was,” Rice said. “I hope that continues in these last three games so we can get into the tournament. And if that mean we don’t get homecourt advantage (in the play-in game), that’s fine. We’ll just have to go upset somebody.”
Entering Wednesday night’s action, Missouri Western was in eighth place with six conference victories, one more than the Lions, Northwest Missouri, Southwest Baptist and Lincoln.
The eighth-place team earns a home game for the postseason tournament play-in game, and the Lions (11-12, 5-10 MIAA) own the tiebreaker over the four teams closest to them in the standings.
Central Oklahoma (9-13, 2-12) won in its MIAA debut with a 70-62 decision at Pittsburg State after scoring the game’s final nine points. Since then, the Bronchos lost 11 straight league games before an 88-79 victory over Lincoln.
“In Central Oklahoma, we’ll see a little different team,” Mitts said. “They will press us, they will play zone. We haven’t seen much press or zone, and how we handle those two aspects will be the difference in the game.
“They have a very agile post with a lot of movement (6-0 senior Alyssa Fuxa, averaging 12.1 points). Other teams that had active posts have given us trouble in the past.”
Missouri Southern records
Women’s Basketball 1,000-Point Club
Player, Years Games Points Avg.
1. Anita Rank, 1984-88 112 1,842 16.4
2. Margaret Womack, 1982-86 102 1,747 17.1
3. Pam Brisby, 1978-82 119 1,728 14.5
4. Linda Castillon, 1979-83 116 1,387 12.0
5. Melissa Grider, 1993-96 78 1,353 17.3
6. Patti Killian, 1977-81 117 1,256 10.7
7. Suzanne Sutton, 1983-86 88 1,248 14.2
8. Katie Gariss, 1998-2002 95 1,230 12.5
9. Erin Rice, 2009-pres. 104 1,153 11.1
10. Becky Fly, 1982-86 90 1,140 12.7
11. Caryn Schumaker, 1987-91 93 1,113 12.0