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Rice v. Houston – It’s the Win That Counts

By NATE GRIFFIN, SportsRadio 610
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(credit: Houston Chronicle)

(credit: Houston Chronicle)

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HOUSTON (CBS-Houston) – Rice Head Basketball Coach Ben Braun and team are one-up on the Cougars in 2012 as the two head into the final regular season game of the College Basketball season. But this is a different season for both especially the Owls.

Head Coach Ben Braun and the Owls have won 17 games which signify the most since the 2004-05. This is also the most in Braun’s tenure during his four seasons as the Rice Head Coach.

“We play in a good league, and we play a good schedule,” says Braun. “And so, to win the majority of your games is important. That’s an accomplishment and it’s something that has shown the progress of our team and our program.”

It’s only fair to show the win totals over the last three seasons to add clarity. During Braun’s first season in 2008-09, the Owls finished 10-22. The following season, they finished 8-22, and in 2010-11, 14-18.

“We just want to continue to be as good as we can be,” adds Braun. “That’s my goal as a coach is never to rest at a winning season, rest with the post-season tournament. You don’t rest there. You use those as goals. You are always trying to find ways to get your program better.”

Especially since the Owls will be facing a Houston Cougar’s team that is on a two game win streak. While their 14-14 overall record, 6-9 conference record might not indicate their ability, the Cougars have proven how momentum can serve a team well.

CHANCE TO SWEEP THE COUGARS

Braun’s Owls beat the Cougars 79-71 at Hofheinz Pavilion back on February 8 and have a shot at back-to-back season sweeps after also sweeping the Cougars last season. However, because of the significance of a possible 18th win, Braun downplays the notion.

“I don’t put any more significance of sweeping a team (or) not sweeping a team. I just know that Houston’s coming off their biggest win or their best performance of the year and we’re playing a team that’s played well in this league and they’ve certainly beaten some teams that we haven’t beaten. So that’s gotten our attention and they’ve played us tough and we had to work awfully hard to get those wins against them.”

The Cougars won their last two games at home against SMU, 62-59, and Tulane in a blowout win, 82-53. Back on February 18, the Cougars defeated, arguably, the best team in C-USA in Southern Miss, 73-71. The Cougars also added another signature win back in January with a 70-69 overtime win against Tulsa.

“And so, my only concern is trying to play our best against a good team that’s very capable and that’s our goal,” says Braun. “I don’t really put the significance of a sweep or having a better record. It’s just going up against a team we respect and we know is going to be competitive and well coached and do our best and try to win and that’s what it’s about.”

SENIORS CLASS ADDS TO SUCCESS

Connor Frizzelle, Lucas Kuipers, Emerson Herndon, and Nate Schwarze will play their final regular season game at Tudor Fieldhouse on Saturday night. But not only have the seniors been big to the program, all have made contributions according to the Head Coach. The 17 wins have been a total team effort.

“Lucas has had a very solid senior year,” says Braun. “That’s really helped us. That’s really made a difference. Connor has had a really productive senior year and stepped up from a year ago and been steady. So, that’s really helped.”

“You can’t overlook the productivity and what Connor and (junior forward) Arsalan (Kazemi) have meant to our program over the last couple of years. And what I’m pleased with is that they’ve continued to give us great productivity and their experience has really helped us.”

“Our freshmen and even our sophomores and (7’2” center) Omar (Oraby) have stepped up and given us great productivity. So, depth has been a big factor and to be able to have those young guys step up and perform has really been important.”

COUGARS ENTER THE HOUSE

The Owls are 11-5 at home while the Cougars are winless on the road at 0-8. Houston Head basketball Coach, James Dickey wants to change that and is counting on his guys to think about the last home loss at Hofheinz Pavilion to Rice and what happened last season at Tudor Fieldhouse as well.

“I hope our guys remember that it wasn’t a pleasant experience last year and we need to be ready to go,” says Dickey.

Believe it or not, the score of last season’s overtime win at Tudor was the same exact score of this season’s first win by the Owls over the Cougars at Hofheinz, 79-71. In last season’s game at Tudor, the Owls got to the free throw line 31 times, but only made 18 of those. The Cougars got to the line 21 times and made 15.

The Owls had a slight rebounding edge as well for the game, 35-33. However, the first matchup between the two at Hofheinz this season saw the Cougars out-rebound the Owls 36-30. But during the 2011-12 season, the two teams are neck and neck at 36.1 boards per game which is a stat the Cougar Head Coach can not overlook.

“They’re an outstanding rebounding basketball team,” says Dickey. “Beat us twice last year. We had a chance over there and got into overtime and they really wore us out in overtime and played much better than we did here at home. So, I hope our guys are motivated and ready to go.”

The Owls outscored the Cougars 23-15 in overtime. With both teams looking to end the season on a positive note, it could be that same type of contest.

MATCHING UP

The Owls average 69.5 points per game while allowing opponents 65.7 ppg. Owls 6’7” junior forward Arsalan Kazemi leads the way in scoring and rebounding with a double-double average of 12.3 and 10.4 per game.

Tamir Jackson is the other Owl averaging double figures with 10.7 ppg. Senior guard Connor Frizzelle averages 9.6 ppg, while freshman point guard Dylan Ennis and freshman forward Ahmad Ibrahim average 8.3 and 6.2 points per game respectively.

Freshmen Jarelle Reischel and Julian DeBose have also been solid contributors for the Owls as well this season. Reischel averages 5.5 ppg while DeBose chips in with 3.1 ppg.

HOW DO THE COUGARS STACK UP

Houston averages 71.9 points per game which is the number 2 scoring offense in conference play while Rice stands at number 4. Mentioned earlier, the Cougars won their last two games; 62-59 over SMU and 82-53 over Tulane.

The Cougars are led in scoring by 6’6” junior guard Jonathon Simmons with 14.3 ppg who scored 23 against Tulane in his best all-around effort of the season.

Sophomore guard Joseph Young has really picked up steam since taking over the starting role as point/off-guard for senior Darian Thibodeaux and now averages 11.6 ppg. Young poured in 27 points in 35 minutes against SMU in his best all-around performance of the season.

Sophomore 6’6” forward Alandise Harris averages 11.5 ppg and pulls down 6.1 rebounds per game. Freshman 6’8” forward TaShawn Thomas leads the team in rebounding with 7.6 boards per game in conference play while averaging 10.8 points a contest.

Tipoff gets underway at 7:00 in Tudor Fieldhouse.

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