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Friday, March 24, 2023 — Houston, TX

MBB hopes to reverse recent fortunes in C-USA tournament

Cali Liu / Thresher

By Pavithr Goli     3/7/23 10:58pm

The Rice men’s basketball team enters this week’s Conference USA tournament in Frisco as the No. 6 seed, as they hope to qualify for the Big Dance for the first time since 1970. The Owls will face off against the University of Texas at San Antonio, the No.11 seed, on Wednesday at 8:30 pm. On a four-game losing streak, the Owls look to turn around their fate at a critical juncture of their season. Despite their recent struggle, head coach Scott Pera is confident that his team will show up in their biggest game of the year. 

“We are looking to play our best game of the year when it matters most on Wednesday night,” Pera said. 

The Owls split their two-game season series against their first-round opponent, defeating the Roadrunners 88-81 in San Antonio during a mid-January game that went into overtime, but lost 84-79 at home against them in mid-February. 

With an overall record of 17-14 on the season, the Owls are 8-12 against C-USA opponents and are 3-7 against teams in this year’s conference tournament. The Owls started the season on a hot streak, entering February with a 15-6 overall record. However, the Owls failed to find success in February and early March, going 2-8 for the rest of the regular season. 

Entering the tournament, the Owls’ offense has been a clear strength, scoring 77.4 points per game, which ranks at No. 52 out of the 352 Division I teams. In addition, the Owls rank No. 39 in assists and No. 28 in three-pointers made per game.

According to junior guard Quincy Olivari, he believes that what makes the team so strong on the offensive side of the ball is how unpredictable they are. 

“We share the ball and our offense is so random that it kind of makes us hard to scout,” Olivari said. “When we’re having fun, we’re dangerous. We just got to make sure that we stay focused on the game plan and stay together when things get hard.”

Olivari leads the team in scoring with 19.3 points per game, while fellow junior guard Travis Evee was close behind at 15.4.  Junior forward Max Fiedler helps conduct the offense, leading the conference with 5.1 assists a game. According to Olivari, the biggest key for the team to make a deep run in the conference tournament is to play together and follow their game plan.

“We need to play as a unit and make sure everyone’s connected, and on the same page, and following the game plan to a tee,” Olivari said.

Another strength that the team can rely on, according to Pera, is their veteran’s presence. The Owls are led by a trio of upperclassmen with tournament experience, which Pera said can guide them through the postseason.

“We’ve played well in the venue, We’ve won conference tournament games the last two years and can count on our veterans to help carry us,” Pera said.

Despite the factors that swing in their favor, the Owls need to overcome their biggest weakness, which is their defense. The Owls rank N0. 322 out of 363 teams in Division I basketball in points allowed per game, at 76.2 points per game. Despite allowing 90 points in consecutive games to close the regular season, Pera is confident that the team will fix these weaknesses when they face off against the Roadrunners on Wednesday by being more focused. 

“We need to put on a firmer mind, realizing how important it is, and [be] excited about playing Wednesday night, which the guys will be and we’ll put our best foot forward,” Pera said.

If the Owls defeat their in-state rivals on Wednesday, they will face off against the University of Alabama at Birmingham in the quarter-finals on Thursday at 8:30 p.m. The semi-finals will take place on Friday and the final will be held on Saturday.

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