Huntsville - Britni Martin scored 22 points and Sequeena Thomas pulled down 14 rebounds to lead Sam Houston State to a 73-55 victory over Rice in the first round of the Women's Basketball Invitational.

Sam Houston (18-11) will play the winner of the Northern Iowa at Stephen F. Austin WBI game Thursday. If the Kats play Northern Iowa, the game will be Saturday at 2 p.m. in Huntsville. If SFA is the winner, the two battle for the third time this year in Nacogdoches Saturday at 6 p.m.

Rice (16-16) was led by Jessia Kuster who scored 18 points and pulled down 17 rebounds. Brianna Hypolite added 16 points for the Owls.

The Owls led only twice in the first half as Sam Houston built a 32-28 lead at intermission and out-scored Rice 41-27 in the second period.

Chanice Smith scored 12 points and Jasmine Johnson added 11 to give the Bearkats three players in double figures.

 "As soon as we got in and got that first practice through, everybody was excited to be here," said junior Chanice Smith, who chipped in 12 points. "We just knew we were going to fight until the end and the score shows it."

Britni Martin, who led all scorers with 22 points, said the team thanked God for another chance to play this season.

"Not many people get second chances and for us to get it, we didn't want to waste the opportunity," Martin said. "We were really excited, didn't want to let anybody down. It was a big game."

Sam Houston came out like it was a big game, but eventually, so did Rice. The Kats jumped out to a 12-5 lead on the Owls off a 3-pointer by Martin. Then the Owls got on a bit of a roll with the inside presence of Jessica Kuster, who led the team with 18 points and 17 rebounds.

Rice tied the game at 22 and the Bearkats took a 32-28 lead into halftime.

Both teams shot around 30 percent from the field in the opening period, but the Owls led the rebounding and turnover battle throughout.

Sam Houston struggled with Rice's full-court press, but never got rattled.

"That was all heart," Smith added. "We came down and lost some key plays, turning the ball over at the end. But it was heart. We wanted it more than they did. We wanted to be here.

"Even after a tough loss in the Southland Conference tournament, we came back and we fought. We fought hard."

The WBI marks the first time in Sam Houston's 25 years as a member of the NCAA Division I Southland Conference that the Bearkats have advanced to a national post-season tournament.