GAME NOTES: Crosstown rivals will collide as the Rice Owls and Houston Cougars square off at the Toyota Center on Saturday.
Rice improved to 5-5 and earned its second win in a row on Thursday with a 69-56 decision over NAIA foe Northwood University. Although the Owls have only downed three Division I opponents this season, they did manage to knock off Texas A&M-Corpus Christi and Santa Clara on the road as part of their 2-2 away record. Coach Ben Braun's team will visit Austin to play Texas and host Harvard at Tudor Fieldhouse before it begins its Conference USA slate in January.
The Cougars will be looking to turn things around after their 79-76 overtime loss to Louisiana last Saturday. Houston held an eight-point lead in the first half and stayed in front until the Ragin' Cajuns' Elfrid Payton made 1-of-2 attempts at the charity stripe with three second left in the second period to force an extra session. Since its perfect 5-0 start, Coach James Dickey's team has lost five of its last seven games. This will be the final non-league game for Houston as it will host Connecticut on New Year's Eve in its inaugural American Athletic Conference tilt.
This will be the 79th meeting in history between these Lone Star State foes. Houston owns a 60-18 all-time series edge after defeating the Owls, 72-67, in last season's Conference USA Tournament.
Rice's sporadic play on the offensive end has led to an average of 71.1 points per game on 43.3 percent efficiency from the field. The Owls have barely outscored their opposition, which has posted an average of 70.7 points. Rice overcame a one-point halftime deficit and led Northwood by 13 when the final buzzer sounded despite finishing the contest 10-of-36 from the field. The team made up for its poor jump shooting by converting 19-of-27 attempts at the charity stripe. Keith Washington and Austin Ramljak tied for the team-high with 14 points apiece while freshman forward Sean Obi registered a double- double with 11 points to go along with the same number of boards. The 6- foot-9, 265-pound Obi is near a double-double average with 12.4 points and 9.4 rebounds per tilt, while Ramljak has connected on 45.2 percent of his 3- point field goal tries to net a team-best 13.5 ppg.
Houston is ranked only eighth out of the 10 AAC schools in points per game at 74.7 and its allowed average of 69.8 ppg is just the seventh best in the league. The Cougars got off to a great start versus Louisiana as they hit on 16-of-22 field goal tries including all three of their attempts from beyond the arc in the first half. However, they went 11-of-29 from the floor and 1- of-8 from behind the 3-point line over the next 25 minutes. The Cougars, who committed 20 turnovers in the game, were led by TaShawn Thomas, who tallied 27 points, six rebounds and seven blocked shots. Danrad Knowles accounted for 16 points off the bench and Brandon Morris chipped in 13 points in the losing cause. Thomas, who is second in the AAC in both scoring (17.5 ppg) and rebounding (9.3 rpg), has gone 18-of-23 from the field over his past two games.
Although Houston is plummeting towards the .500 mark as it enters its rivalry game with Rice, the Cougars hold the upperhand over the rebuilding Owls. Thomas will be challenged by Obi on the interior, but Houston's big man is going to be too polished and relentless for Rice's rookie post player.
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