Last Wednesday, both of the Rice basketball teams were in action fighting to keep their seasons alive in the Conference USA tournament in Birmingham, Alabama. Heading into these marquee matchups, there were many similarities between the two teams. Both squads received No. 10 seeds in the tournament and faced No. 7 seeds in the opening round. Each team had experienced an up-and-down final month of the year. Over a span of two weeks in mid-February, the women won four out of five contests before dropping the last two of the season. The men performed similarly, winning four straight games to rise to the middle of the C-USA standings before losing their last three regular season games.
But, as is the case every March, when teams are competing to lock down regular season championships, win their conference tournaments or earn NCAA tournament or National Invitation Tournament berths, the intensity rises. The games become win or go home. “March Madness” ensues. No matter the statistics, every team has a chance to do something special. The Rice men’s and women’s basketball teams are no different. The fans and support, however, are what I feel are different but should not be that way for long.
I was extremely excited to watch the two Owls teams play and perhaps do something incredible. Additionally, this was an opportunity to see teams compete in postseason atmospheres and perhaps grow in the process. I arrived at Duncan College room 248 to a small group of fellow peers crowded around a broken projector screen and a laptop in anticipation of the upcoming games. The women were playing Louisiana Tech University and the men were scheduled to play the University of North Carolina, Charlotte an hour later. The live streams were available online through the American Sports Network and the small group of mostly Duncaroos began to hoot and holler at the screen as their fellow classmates and friends began playing.
Sitting all around me were some of my favorite Duncaroos who have a true love for the Owls basketball teams that I hope can one day spread to the entire student body. Sergio Santamaria, perhaps the most vocal and passionate Rice basketball fan there is, was constantly hollering at the screen in his usual cadence as if he was at Tudor Fieldhouse. Jeremy Reiskind, the president of Rice Rally Club, was working hard on the online streams to have both games up simultaneously while continually browsing his Twitter feed for the latest nugget of information. Fasai Phuathavornskul, a freshman cheerleader who attended nearly all of the regular season home games, brought her physics textbook with her to study and watch at the same time but got so caught up in the two games that she didn’t bother to open it up.
These individuals have been loyal fans since day one and were extremely great to watch the games with. These are the fans that need to inspire other members of the student body and have been already making efforts to do so. The way our men’s and women’s basketball programs will rise up is through the belief that they are supported by a student body that really wishes to see these teams succeed on the court. These teams remain in the lower tier of Conference USA because of a lack of support and an apathy for what the players and coaches strive to do for the programs’ futures. As for the games, they were very rewarding to watch. The teams’ performances did not disappoint. The men’s team saw their season end after losing a hard-fought game to the University of North Carolina, Charlotte, 79-69. The women’s team, however, upset seventh-seeded Louisiana Tech University in overtime, 72-67, to advance to the Conference USA tournament quarterfinals. Unfortunately, the women’s team’s season ended there as it fell to Middle Tennessee State University.
Rice Rising is not a myth for Rice’s basketball programs. Both teams showed something in the way they performed in the conference tournament and it is this: The future is bright for Rice basketball. They are doing their part, so the student body must now do its part and support them.