GAME NOTES: Fresh off a milestone win for their head coach, the 20th-ranked Texas Longhorns turn their attention to the Rice Owls in a non-league clash at the Erwin Center.
Rice has lost its only two road games thus far, the most recent of which was Tuesday night's 68-65 setback at North Texas. The Owls have fared much better at home, having won all three of those contests by double-digit margins. Following this matchup, they'll kick off a three-game homestand beginning with Arizona on Wednesday.
Longhorns' head coach Rick Barnes earned his 500th career victory with Tuesday night's 84-50 rout of Sam Houston State. That win followed a two-point loss to fifth-ranked Pittsburgh in last week's championship game of the 2K Sports Classic in New York City. This afternoon's tilt is the second leg of UT's three-game road trip before they take part in the Big 12/Pac-10 Hardwood Series next weekend.
This will be the 193rd all-time meeting between these two long-time rivals, and Texas holds a commanding 133-59 series edge.
Rice's loss to North Texas came down to the waning moments, as the Mean Green sealed the outcome with free throws in the final seconds. The Owls led by as many as nine early in the second half, but North Texas executed a full-court press to score 11 of the game's final 15 points. Both teams shot just 39 percent from the floor, but the Mean Green held a decisive 21-6 scoring advantage at the foul line. Tamir Jackson led Rice with 15 points in the loss. Lucas Kuipers was next in line with 13, while Arsalan Kazemi recorded a double-double with 11 points and 12 rebounds.
Kazemi is averaging a double-double, as he leads the Owls with 14.4 points and 12.0 rebounds per contest. He is shooting 54.8 percent from the floor and has knocked down 26-of-32 free throws (.813). Jackson is tallying a team-high 30.6 minutes per game and is averaging 13.2 points. The Owls have made their living at the free-throw line, where they are shooting a healthy 81.4 percent as a team. They've also utilized their size advantage for a +9.0 rebounding margin through five games. However, the team lacks a consistent outside threat, as the Owls are shooting a combined 29.1 percent from the perimeter.
Rice will have trouble controlling the paint in the same manner against the Longhorns, who are a +7.4 in rebounding margin thanks to their star trio. Sophomore swing man Jordan Hamilton, the team's top returning scorer from a year ago, is averaging a team-best 24.6 ppg. Hamilton has shot a sizzling 46.4 percent from the perimeter (13-of-28) and is also pulling down 7.6 rebounds per outing. Tristan Thompson is tallying 12.6 points and 6.2 boards per game, while Gary Johnson averages 12.4 points and a team-best 7.8 rebounds. All three are shooting 50 percent or better from the floor. Outside of Hamilton, however, the rest of the Longhorns are shooting just 7-of-39 from three-point range (.179).
Barnes became just the 12th active coach in college basketball to reach the 500-win plateau on Tuesday night. His team turned in a swarming defensive effort in that game, holding Sam Houston State to 29.2 percent shooting from the floor. Texas, in contrast, shot 55 percent, and was led by Hamilton's game-high 25 points and nine rebounds. Dogus Balbay added 14 points in the win, while J'Covan Brown scored 12 off the bench. Johnson finished with nine points and nine rebounds, but Thompson had a relatively quiet game with only three points on 1-of-4 shooting. Still, the Longhorns held a 20-8 edge in points off turnovers and never trailed.
Texas has the size, the depth and the overall talent advantage in this matchup. The Owls have struggled in their only road games thus far, and they'll have a tough time bucking that trend against nationally-ranked Texas.
Sports Network Predicted Outcome: Texas 80, Rice 63