Rice takes on two Conference USA front runners
Feb. 21, 2012
For the Owls, Wednesday's game against the Knights is the first of back-to-back contests against teams currently occupying one of the coveted, top four spots in the Conference USA standings. The Owls take on C-USA co-leader Southern Miss Saturday night in Hattiesburg in another game set for CSS.
The top four league teams at the conclusion of the regular season receive a first-round bye at next month's Conference USA Tournament in Memphis. At 6-6, Rice is currently two games out of the top four. The Owls are 15-12 overall this season and with their next victory will equal the program's most wins since the 2006-07 season.
UCF is currently fourth in the C-USA standings and comes into the week looking for its 20th victory. The Knights, 19-7 overall, rebounded from a 78-74 loss at Southern Miss to beat East Carolina 64-55 last Saturday.
The Knights are 3-5 in road games this season including a 3-3 mark in conference road games.
UCF's resumé this season includes a 68-63 win over UConn as well as a 68-67 home-court victory against Memphis.
UCF junior guard Marcus Jordan and junior forward Keith Clanton both rank among the Top 10 scorers in Conference USA. Jordan averages a team-leading 15.1 points and has knocked down 42 three-pointers this season.
Clanton averages 15.0 points, 8.7 rebounds and has 49 blocks on the year. Clanton has also stepped out onto the perimeter to knock down 30 three-pointers.
Defensively, UCF has held opponents to a league-low 30 percent shooting from three-point range. While Jordan and Clanton have converted from outside, the Knights as a team rank last in C-USA in three-point shooting offense, converting on just 30.1 percent of their attempts from outside.
Rice is coming off a 69-50 loss at Tulsa that snapped a two-game win streak.
In a loss to another team occupying a spot in the top four of the league standings, Rice made just two field goals in the final 14-plus minutes of play as Tulsa scored 16 unanswered points to stretch out a three-point lead in the final minutes Saturday.
Rice junior Arsalan Kazemi continues to lead the Owls in scoring and rebounding, averaging 12.1 points and 10.6 rebounds but is coming off a game in Tulsa in which he went 0-for-5 from the field, finishing with two points at the free throw line along with six rebounds. Kazemi did have three steals in the game and with 55 for the season has moved into the top 10 on the Rice single-season list.
In just his second conference start of the season in last week's game at Tulsa, Omar Oraby scored 10 points and had two blocks, giving him 45 for the season and tying a Rice single-season record.
For the year, Oraby is averaging 6.3 points and 3.6 rebounds. He has raised his season numbers during Conference USA play. Over the first three segments of league play, he is averaging 8.2 points and 5.2 rebounds. He has a C-USA leading 26 blocks (2.2 pg) in league contests.
In addition to Oraby's 45 blocks, Kazemi has 27 for to lead a Rice team which has 124 rejections for the year. The Rice single-season record for blocks is 125 set during the 2004-05 season.
Wednesday's game is one of only two left at home for the Owls. Rice begins a two-game road swing with its game at Southern Miss on Saturday then travels to UTEP next week. Rice wraps up the regular season March 3rd at home against Houston.