March 6, 2012
MEMPHIS, Tenn. - An early February loss at East Carolina marked a rare setback when the Rice Owls started playing some of their best basketball of the season. The Owls head into the Conference USA Men's Basketball having won six of their last 10 and equaling their best tournament seeding.
Tournament play for Rice begins with a rematch against ECU Wednesday at 12 p.m. in the FedEx Forum. The winner advances to play No. 2 seed Southern Miss Thursday at 12 p.m.
Wednesday's game will air on 1560 The Game (KGOW). The contest will be televised by CSS in select markets and available on the world wide web via Conference USA's All-Access site in markets where CSS is not available.
In early February, ECU stretched out a six-point lead with less than four minutes to play to double figures as the Pirates beat Rice 82-68. The game marked the Owls' only loss over a five-game period.
The win was East Carolina's third straight in the series with Rice. But after beating the Owls, ECU lost its next five. The Pirates righted their ship last week, closing out the regular-season by winning two games - a 69-68 overtime victory over Marshall on Senior Night followed by a 66-49 win at Tulane last Saturday.
Rice will now look to quell a Pirate team led by lone senior Darrius Morrow. In last week's sweep, Morrow was dominating. He scored 27 points and had eight rebounds against Marshall. He scored 19 points on 6-for-8 shooting and had a 7-for-8 night at the free throw line against Tulane.
On the year, Morrow has averaged 13.9 points and 6.2 rebounds en route to being named Third Team All-Conference USA. In the earlier meeting against Rice he scored 16 points.
ECU point guard Miguel Paul, a junior transfer from Missouri, has averaged a team-leading 15 points per game and has 167 assists, 30 more than any other player in Conference USA. He was named to the league's second team on Monday.
ECU had never won a Conference USA Men's Basketball Championship game until winning two en route to the semifinals of the 2011 tournament. As the No. 8 seed last year, the Pirates defeated No. 9 UCF 75-60 and No. 1 UAB 75-70 in overtime before bowing out to eventure champion Memphis 76-56.
Rice is the No. 7 seed. The Owls defeated SMU 58-57 before losing to Tulsa 81-72, marking the third straight year the team's conference tournament run ended against the Golden Hurricane.
This year's Rice team is led by junior forward Arsalan Kazemi, who earlier in the week was named to the All-Conference USA Second Team and on Tuesday was tabbed to the United States Basketball Writers Association's All-District VII team.
Kazemi, who has averaged 14.7 points and 9.7 rebounds in three previous conference tournament games, heads into the week ranked among the nation's leaders in rebounds, double-doubles and steals.
This year Kazemi is averaging 12.5 points and 10.3 rebounds. He has 16 double-doubles for the year and broke the Conference USA career double-double record during the final week of the regular season. He has 43 career double-doubles.
Kazemi also leads Conference USA with 60 steals and ranks among the league's leaders in blocks with 29.
Rice senior guard Connor Frizzelle is averaging 9.3 points for the year and will be playing in his sixth conference tournament game. In his previous five C-USA games he has averaged 12.6 points while shooting 47 percent from the field. He has converted on 10-of 17 three-point attempts.
The No. 7 seed at the Conference USA Men's Basketball Championship has a 21-16 overall record in the tournament (.568). As the No. 7 seed in 2010, Houston won the Conference USA Tournament.