Rice Hoops Set for Season Opener

Lucas Kuipers is one of four seniors and nine lettermen back for the Owls in 2011-12.

Nov. 10, 2011

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With four starters back from a team which advanced to the quarterfinals of the Conference USA Championship, Rice goes for its third straight, season-opening win Saturday when the Owls play host to the University of New Orleans. Tip off is set for 7 p.m. in Tudor Fieldhouse and the game will be broadcast by 1560 The Game (KGOW).

"We are excited to get the season started," said head coach Ben Braun, who begins his fourth season at Rice. "We are excited about having our top four scorers back. We are excited about the new guys coming in and the mixture of returning players and depth."

The Owls have nine returning starters back off last year's team which went 14-18, including four starters.

Juniors Arsalan Kazemi and Tamir Jackson were the team's leading scorers a year ago while Connor Frizzelle and Lucas Kuipers also return after starting last year.

Kazemi, who is a Preseason All-Conference USA pick as well as a 2011-12 Lute Olson Preseason All-America selection, returns after averaging a double-double a year ago. Kazemi averaged 15.2 points per game while pulling down 11 rebounds a contest. He ranks third on the Rice all-time list with 27 career double-doubles including 18 a year ago.

In addition to averaging 13.9 points per game last year as a sophomore, Jackson has led the Owls in scoring during conference play each of the past two seasons. He enters his junior year having played and started all 63 games during his career.

Frizzelle average 10.7 points per game last year and is on the brink of becoming Rice's first 1,000-point scorer since Morris Almond (2003-07). Last year, Frizzelle established a new season free throw shooting record at Rice, connecting on 90.1 percent of his attempts.

Kuipers ended the 2010-11 season averaging 12.8 points a contest over the last six games of the year. For the season he averaged 7.6 points an outing as a junior. He had 39 three-point field goals, most by a returning player.

In addition to Frizzelle and Kuipers, strong forward Emerson Herndon and point guard Nate Schwarze are back for their senior seasons.

Saturday's game will be the second for New Orleans in as many days. The Privateers open their season Friday night at New Mexico.

Mark Slessinger begins his first season as UNO's head coach after working as an assistant at Northwestern State the previous 11 years. During his time at NSU, the Demons won three South Conference titles and posted a first-round win over Iowa at the 2006 NCAA Tournament.

"They have good players in the program," Braun said. "The new coach is a former assistant at Northwestern State so they are going to be a pressure team, an up-tempo team. I think you are going to see a team getting up and down the floor and pressing. It will be an exciting game for our fans."

The Privateers return two starters from last year's squad - senior forward Antonio Wertz, who was the team's second-leading scorer a year ago, and senior point guard Brandon Knight.

Wertz averaged 11.6 points and 6.3 rebounds per game while Knight looked to pass first and score second. He shot 45 percent from the field, going 9-for-18 from three-point range, and averaged 5.2 points per game last season. He led the team with 62 assists (2.8 pg).

All told, UNO has seven letterwinners back from a team which finished 16-6 a year ago. Joe Pasternack coached the Privateers the previous four years before being named an assistant at Arizona during the offseason. Pasternack was an assistant to Braun at California.

Saturday's contest begins a four-game home stand for Rice. The Owls play host to Southern University next Thursday as part of South Padre Island Invitational. Rice plays its entire nonconference slate within the borders of the Lone Star State.

During a season in which it begins transitioning from Division I to Division II, New Orleans will play games from coast to coast in eight different states and four time zones. The Privateers are classified as an NCAA Division I Independent for the 2011-12 season.





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