Jan. 6, 2010
Final Stats |
Houston vs. Rice Game Book in PDF Format
By MOISEKAPENDA BOWER
There were a handful of statistical trends that Rice aimed to exploit against the Houston Cougars Wednesday night, indicators that should have bolstered the Owls' hopes against their perimeter-oriented rivals.
But instead of getting the Cougars who ranked last in Conference USA in blocked shots and rebounding margin, and who developed a reputation for scoring beyond the arc not inside of it, Rice drew an opponent that guarded the rim with aplomb and tallied points in the paint with ease.
With the Owls' concern over the Cougars' sharpshooting guards blatantly obvious, UH ravaged Rice inside and rolled to an 83-66 victory at Tudor Fieldhouse that marked the C-USA opener for both programs.
UH junior forward Maurice McNeil, he of the 6.1 points/per game and 6.3 rebounds/game averages, produced a game-high 23 points and team-high 13 rebounds as UH (8-6, 1-0 C-USA) scored 42 points in the paint. McNeil had 12 blocks over the previous 13 games, but posted six against the Owls (6-8, 0-1), who seemed stunted by the contested shots.
"It was a big surprise," Owls guard Tamir Jackson said of McNeil's production. "Coach (Ben Braun) told us he's not really a threat in the post scoring or rebounding; he said he would get some offensive rebounds because he's athletic and that he would block a lot of shots. But scoring-wise he was a big surprise. I didn't think half his shots would go in. He stayed aggressive and kept attacking our big men, and that's what happened."
McNeil had 16 points, six rebounds and three blocks in the second half when the Cougars created their cushion. UH seized control with a 19-6 spurt keyed by Kelvin Lewis (18 points, 4-of-9 on 3-pointers), who sandwiched a block of Lucas Kuipers with a pair of 3s that doubled the Cougars' six-point lead to 53-41 with 14:05 left. Those perimeter shots shocked the Owls and negatively impacted their defensive approach.
Braun described the Cougars' rash of uncontested shots as `demoralizing,' and judging the Owls' reaction he wasn't exaggerating. Whenever UH surged ahead in the first half the Owls responded with a rush of their own, erasing an 8-0 deficit to open the game with an 11-2 rally before cutting into a 31-24 deficit with a push that left them down 38-34 at the intermission. Aubrey Coleman (22 points, eight rebounds) did the heavy lifting for the Cougars before the break with 14 points and five boards, but after Lewis ignited following halftime, the Owls began to scramble and surrender access to the lane and conversions at the rim.
Lewis followed his consecutive 3s with a driving layup that pushed the lead back to a dozen points. Kendrick Washington added a basket in the post before Coleman scored following a foray into the lane. Roughly 45 seconds later Washington converted a 3-point play, and suddenly the deficit had swelled to 62-45 with 10:32 remaining. Another five minutes passed before the Owls surrendered a basket from outside of the lane, with Desmond Wade's trey pushing UH to a 75-54 lead with 5:33 left.
"In the second half they really put some points in the paint on us," Braun said. "We were putting so much attention on their outside shooters that they managed to get some slips and some scores to the basket, and that really hurt us."
Conversely, the Owls didn't do much damage on the interior. Senior guard Cliff Ghoram scored 11 of his 15 points to keep the Owls in contention in the first half and Jackson had 14 of his 19 points late in the second half, but the Owls were repeatedly thwarted at the rim and their shooting percentage reflected those struggles. Freshman forward Arsalan Kazemi, a 56.8 percent shooter heading into league play, shot 3-of-10. Trey Stanton, Suleiman Braimoh and Kuipers, those routinely responsible for the Owls' inside scoring, were a combined 4-for-11.
Rice finished with only 22 points in the paint and managed only a plus-4 rebound margin against a team being outrebounded by 11.7 per game. And when UH made its charge out of the break, Rice failed to respond.
"We just have to be determined, consistent and focused on what we do during those times," Ghoram said. "That's something that we have to work on. We've got to regroup in practice and work on those things."
Said Jackson: "If we stay aggressive all the time we could have stayed in the game. But when we get passive and not try to attack, it just hurt us."