(The Sports Network)
DATE & TIME: Saturday, March 5th, 6:00 p.m. (et)
FACTS & STATS: Hofheinz Pavilion (8,479) -- Houston, Texas. Television: None. Home Record: Rice 9-7, Houston 10-5. Away Record: Rice 2-8, Houston 2-11. Neutral Record: Rice 1-2, Houston 0-0. Conference Record: Rice 4-11, Houston 4-11. Series Record: Houston leads, 57-15.
GAME NOTES: The Houston Cougars aim to end the regular season on a positive note and celebrate their seniors in welcoming the Rice Owls to Hofheinz Pavilion Saturday for a Conference-USA matchup.
Houston continued its downward spiral Wednesday with a fifth straight defeat and 10th in 11 games, falling at Tulane in an 80-77 final. The Cougars were ahead by five at the break and still maintained the advantage just past the second period's midpoint before Tulane got some timely three-point shooting as part of a game-altering 16-4 run. The Green Wave held off a late Cougar rally as Houston pulled to within a possession late in the game but got no further. UH shot 54.7 percent from the field and got 21 points from senior Maurice McNeil. Fellow senior Zamal Nixon recorded 20 points, all in the second half, and added six assists.
Rice failed to take advantage of a sloppy performance by Tulsa Wednesday in dropping their final home game of the season by a 67-57 margin. The Golden Hurricane shot just 34.8 percent in the first half and committed 22 turnovers but Rice hit just 31.7 percent of its shots for the game and were outrebounded, 45-32, in losing for a third straight time and fifth in six tries. Lucas Kuipers ended with 14 points to pace the Owls while Tamir Jackson scored 13 points. Arsalan Kazemi notched 11 points and pulled down seven rebounds.
Rice scored a 79-71 overtime win versus the Cougars on January 26 to snap an eight-game losing streak in the series. Houston has handled the Owls pretty well over the years with a 57-15 mark in the all-time set and a 29-4 record at Hofheinz Pavilion versus the Owls, including a five-game home win streak. The Cougars last lost to Rice at home back on December 3, 2003.
The Owls have a decent swath of scorers as well but have also experienced an up-and-down ride when it comes to the offense. The standout sophomore Kazemi tops the roster at 15.1 points per game and leads the conference with 11.2 rebounds per contest. His field-goal percentage (52.9) stands third in C-USA. Kazemi is backed by a solid 14.0-point average from Jackson and Connor Frizzelle joins both in double-figures at 10.6 points per game. The Owls own a slim margin on the glass (33.8-31.3) and post 67.1 points per game on 43.0 percent shooting. Opponents are held to 43.5 percent shooting and edge the Owls in points with 67.4 per contest.
The Cougars have a host of steady contributors on offense and muster 68.5 points per game on 45.6 percent shooting from the field. McNeil leads the way at 13.4 points per game, pulls down a team-leading 7.4 rebounds and ranks second in conference with a 53.1 shooting percentage. Adam Brown stands a close second with a 13.0-point average, Nixon adds 9.7 points per game and Alandise Harris contributes averages of 9.1 points and 5.5 rebounds. Kendrick Washington supplies 8.6 points and 5.1 boards to a well-rounded attack. Darian Thibodeaux leads the club in three-pointers with 53 on 42.7 percent shooting and averages 8.1 ppg. Opponents average 68.7 points on 42.0 percent shooting from the floor and Houston is narrowly edged by the competition in rebounding, trailing by 1.6 per game (35.6-34.0).
The Owls tried to do something nice for their seniors in altering their lineup to hand out extra minutes for the upper-classmen Wednesday. Rice was on a decent roll before then and will likely be back in top form in Houston as the Cougars limp to the finish line and try for one last win for their crop of seniors.
Sports Network Predicted Outcome: Rice 65, Houston 63