The Rice University men's basketball team showed some positive results at Tudor Fieldhouse over the weekend with a 75-70 win against the University of North Texas on Thursday, Feb. 6. Rice missed its chance to complete the sweep at home, falling 66-56 to the University Tulsa on Saturday, Feb. 8. Rice is now 7-16 overall with a 2-8 record in Conference USA. The Owls only have one game this week, heading on the road to play at Louisiana Tech University on Saturday, Feb. 15 in Ruston, La.Head Coach Ben Braun said the Owls played their best half of the season against the Mean Green. He was appreciative of their effort both offensively and defensively. He said this consistency is needed the rest of the season in order to pile up more wins."It was a great win for our team," Braun said. "We got off to a great start, one of the best starts for the season both offensively and defensively .... Our team carried us through and made some big plays in the second half. [Freshman forward Sean Obi] brought us energy off of the bench. It was a good team effort for our team to play against North Texas and get the win."With only one game this week, Rice is focusing on its conditioning in practice. Braun said it is important to be fit for the entire 40 minutes since games can come down to the last few possessions and learning to make free throws at the end is crucial for success."Conditioning is important," Braun said. "Most of the time, you are shooting free throws when you are tired. That's going to be our challenge. [We need to] keep our guys conditioned when competing. We want to throw some adversity during practice so they have that feeling of playing through fatigue in crunch time."Sophomore guard Max Guercy said the team needs to make sure their bodies are in the best shape at this point in the season. Guercy said it is important for the players to get enough rest."We obviously have to stay in shape," Guercy said. "We know with this part of the season we need to rest and take care of our bodies."Louisiana Tech is near the top of the C-USA standings, with a 20-5 overall record and a 8-2 record in C-USA play. Guercy said the team has to translate their positive results at home to the hostile road environment. If the team can hit on all cylinders, it can put out an upset, Guercy said."I think we have to stay focused," Guercy said. "We are doing a good job at home. With the crowd, it helps. For [Louisiana Tech] this weekend, they are obviously a great team and one of the best in the conference. We need to do what we did here and transition to [Louisiana Tech] on Saturday."Braun said the game against Louisiana Tech will be a difficult matchup. He said the Owls have to be ready for their aggressive style of play and their loud, home crowd. If the players can handle that, a win is not out of the question, Braun said."[Louisiana Tech] is going to be a challenge for us especially at their place," Braun said. "They play outstanding basketball at home. They will pressure and are athletic. We will see how the year plays out, but they could be the top team in our league. It's going to be a [major] challenge for our team."
The Rice Owls women's tennis team hosted the NCAA defending champion, Stanford University, on Saturday, Feb. 1 at Jake Hess Tennis Stadium. These two teams last met in the Round of 32 in the 2013 NCAA tournament. Stanford swept the Owls 4-0 to advance to the Sweet 16.For this matchup, the Cardinal entered the game undefeated at 3-0, following up from a win at No. 17 University of Texas on Friday, Jan. 31. Rice was 2-1 entering the match after a loss to the Longhorns the week before.The Owls failed to overcome the strength of the Cardinal, falling 5-2 in a match that lasted more than two hours. Stanford took the early edge by winning the doubles point 1-0. The Owls could not rally to defeat the Cardinal even with singles wins by senior Dominique Harmath and freshman Katherine Ip. Junior Natalie Beazant narrowly lost to the No. 6 singles player, Stanford senior Kristie Ahn, in a third-set tiebreaker. With the loss to Stanford, the Owls are 2-2 this season and will be back on the road this weekend.Rice will travel to Waco this weekend to take on Baylor University. The Bears come into the matchup with a record of 6-1, which includes wins over ranked opponents Ohio State University and Pennsylvania State University. Baylor lost its last matchup 7-0 against No. 2 University of Florida.The Owls last played Baylor in 2011 in Waco. Rice almost upset the then-No. 3 Bears on their home court, losing 4-3. Harmath and senior Kimberly Anicete both played in singles matches as freshmen that year. Anicete won her matchup in two sets while Harmath lost in three sets. The Owls play Baylor on Saturday, Feb. 8 at 1 p.m.
The Rice Owls men's basketball team lost their first conference road games of the season 89-76 at the University of Texas, San Antonio on Thursday, Jan. 30 and 68-57 to the University of Texas, El Paso on Saturday, Feb. 1. With the losses, the Owls are now 6-15 overall and 1-7 in Conference USA play.Head Coach Ben Braun said the team played some of its best basketball of the season against UTEP. Braun said he was impressed with the Owls' performance in the first half before the Miners stormed back in the last 20 minutes."I thought that was our best half of the year, going to UTEP and holding them to 21 points and 30 percent [shooting] from the field," Braun said. "Give UTEP credit; they are one of the top two teams in the league."Freshman guard Marcus Jackson said the Owls were intimidated by the crowd noise, especially at the beginning of the second half, which threw the team off of its game. However, Jackson said the players will learn from this game and play better the next time they are in front of a hostile crowd."We did get a little rattled by the crowd when we turned the ball over," Jackson said. "The [fans] got loud, and we could not hear our coaches. It was definitely a learning experience to play in a crowd like that, but it definitely helped us grow. If we are in that situation again, we will come out on top."Despite the noisy UTEP crowd, Jackson recorded a season high with 14 points. After missing a few games because of a minor leg injury, Jackson said he is getting back up to game speed. He said he is still disappointed with his shooting percentage, but believes it will improve soon."When I came back from the injury, I was slow until I got my quickness and stamina back up," Jackson said. "I am 100 percent now, which is good, and I think I am just getting back into the rhythm, so it's a lot easier for me. I will start making more of my shots now."Braun said it has been great to have Jackson back on the court. He said Jackson is a major asset off the bench for the Owls who has helped on both the offensive and defensive ends of the floor."It's good to see him healthy again," Braun said. "To get [Jackson] back is huge. We have been without [Jackson] for weeks, but to see him come back with a smile on his face and knocking down his shots is great. His defense has improved, and he is getting [his] stamina back."The Owls will return to Tudor Fieldhouse to face the University of North Texas on Thursday, Feb. 6 and the University of Tulsa on Saturday, Feb. 8.Braun said getting out to an early lead is important at home to build momentum and put pressure on the opponent. He said the team needs to be more consistent for the entire 40 minutes of a game."Getting off to a good start is always important for our team," Braun said. "I'd rather have a lead and work on ways to preserve it than constantly have to be down and catch up. We have had some good leads this year, and we need to work on our consistency. We think that's our biggest challenge: consistency from half to half, game to game."Braun said he knows both coaches well and expects both the Mean Green and the Hurricane to put forth their best effort. Braun said the Owls better be ready to defend their home court."I have a lot of respect for the [men] that are coaching," Braun said. "[North Texas and Tulsa] play really hard, and our attention has to be up for these two games."
The Rice University men's basketball team won their first Conference USA basketball game of the season on Saturday, Jan. 25, beating the University of North Carolina, Charlotte 71-69. This victory ended an eight-game losing streak that began after the Owls lost to the University of Houston on Dec. 21. Earlier in the week, Rice lost to Marshall University 73-63. With their 1-1 record over the weekend, Rice is now 6-13 overall and 1-5 in C-USA play.Junior forward Seth Gearhart said Rice came up with an effective strategy to use against Charlotte. Gearhart said the team will begin to win more games if they continue to execute."Basically, we just need to keep playing with the same level we did against Charlotte," Gearhart said. "We came out strong. We played really good defense, and we attacked offensively, which is something that we have struggled with all year. We have not been scoring as much as we need to win games. If we keep both of those things up, we will continue winning."Gearhart said he has been impressed with the improvement the freshmen have shown during the season. He said he expects them to provide important contributions for the rest of the season."Everyone brings something different," Gearhart said. "[Freshman forward] Sean Obi has been playing well. He has been getting the double-doubles: scoring a lot of points and getting the rebounds. What [people] do not see is all of the other freshmen, who, since they have come in the summer, have gotten so much better. They are ready to play and contribute."After their win on Saturday, the Owls will go back on the road to face the University of Texas, San Antonio and the University of Texas, El Paso. UTSA is new to C-USA this season, with a 6-12 overall record and 2-3 conference record, and UTEP is 14-6 this year, with a 4-1 C-USA record.Sophomore guard Keith Washington said UTSA and UTEP deserve to be above Rice in the C-USA standings, but that the Owls will not back down. He said they will try to push the tempo and keep up with the Roadrunners and the Miners."I believe they are both better than us, but we will come in ready," Washington said. "It won't be easy, but we will come in fighting. I think we can take [both of] them."Going back on the road, Washington said he is not going to be scared of the loud crowds. He said the Owls' experiences with adversity this season have prepared them for playing on the road. After the win against Charlotte, Washington said he is excited for the future of this team."We know going into these games [that] we are always going to be the underdog, no matter who we play this year," Washington said. "We are used to going to a hostile environment, and we know that we have to fight for each other. Our mindset heading onto the road is to do whatever it takes to win. I'm looking forward to what the future holds for Rice basketball."
Just 13 months ago, senior tight end Luke Willson (Lovett '13) took off his Rice Owls jersey for the final time after playing the United States Air Force Academy in the 2012 Armed Forces Bowl. Now, after being drafted in the fifth round by the Seattle Seahawks in the 2013 NFL draft, he is playing on the NFL's grandest stage: Super Bowl XLVIII. The Thresher interviewed Willson to talk about the game of his life and to reflect on his days as a Rice Owl. Rice Thresher: What's it like to know you are playing in the Super Bowl? How are you feeling right now?Luke Willson: You kind of go through a lot of different emotions. You are pretty thankful that you get to play in the Super Bowl. You are thankful that you were on such a good team. There is a lot of media and that sort of thing. It is kind of annoying because things get blown out of proportion, so in that sense, you wish that the week would go by quickly and the game would get here. In a way, it's kind of one of those things where you are ready for the game to come. On the flip side, you want to make sure that you prepare and have all your X's and O's in check, so it's been kind of a roller coaster in terms of how emotions go. How did Rice prepare you for the NFL? What adjustments have you had to make?It was a completely different style at Rice, so in that sense, it was different once I got to the NFL. Pretty much, from top to bottom, you change from being a college kid to a professional, and you are expected to act like a professional, playing with grown men. In terms of football in college, you can get away with technique issues because you are bigger or faster than guys. Here, everyone is elite, so you have to elevate on your own personal skills and technique. What was your favorite moment at Rice? What do you miss the most about playing in college?Probably the Purdue game in September 2011 because beating a Big Ten school was pretty cool. What I miss the most is being around with my best friends. It was one of those things where we had a tight group of guys my last year. I lived in a little townhome with three or four other players. It was a lot of fun, and it is definitely something that I miss the most. Who from Rice do you regularly keep in contact with?Randy Kitchens (Wiess '12) is a wide receiver who was a year older than me. He comes up to Seattle quite a bit. Vance McDonald (Lovett '13) and I keep in touch. There is currently a guy on the team, Tanyan Farley, whom I speak to quite a bit. There are texts here and there. I am probably going to head down there after the season and visit all of those guys and see how they are doing. What is it like having your former tight end buddy Vance McDonald playing for one of your most hated rivals in the 49ers?It's really ironic to think about. Vance and I are really close. We are on teams that hate each other so much and, not only that, but we also played each other in the NFC championship. What are the chances? I mean, it's competitive when we are on the field against each other, but at the same time, I think he roots for me, and I root for him when we are not playing against each other. It's one of those things that actually helps keep our friendship going. It's really cool in that sense. How was getting your first touchdown against the 49ers? What was that moment like for you?It was pretty surreal in the sense that you scored a touchdown in the NFL. I guess it was a pretty incredible thing. Tell me what it is like playing for Seahawks fans, who are some of the most passionate fans in the NFL? What is it like playing in your home stadium?It's unbelievable, and we feed off that noise and energy. It's cool to have such a city behind you. It's pretty awesome how they show up every game going crazy, and again, it's a fun atmosphere to play in. What are the keys to attacking the Broncos' defense after it successfully stopped Philip Rivers and Tom Brady?It is mostly the same thing every week. Our game plan is to establish the run game. That's a big part of our offense, and if our run game is not going, it's pretty tough. We've got to make sure we get some holes open for Marshawn [Lynch] because he will definitely be able to break a bunch of tackles like he always does. We need to make sure we can run the ball, and everything else from there opens up. Predictions for the game?Seattle wins 24-17, and Russell Wilson will be the Super Bowl MVP. This interview has been edited for clarity and length.
The Rice University men's basketball team did not secure its first conference victory of the season, falling 84-62 to the University of Southern Mississippi on Jan. 16 and 58-41 to Tulane University on Jan. 18. With the losses, the Owls fell to 5-12 overall and 0-4 in Conference USA play. Rice will return to Tudor Fieldhouse this weekend to host Marshall University on Jan. 23 and the University of North Carolina, Charlotte on Jan. 25.Head Coach Ben Braun said he was encouraged by the defense's performance at times, but the shooting has to be better. He said everyone was missing shots against Tulane."I thought defensively we did good stuff in both games, but we missed some shots," Braun said. "We had some open looks and did not knock them down. Sometimes, it snowballs a little bit when you miss a couple of shots. That starts to weigh on you a little bit. Shooting can be contagious."Even with the problems on offense, Braun said defense will continue to be the main focus in practice. Braun said he expects the offense will come around, but it will be the defensive stops that will help Rice win games."[On defense], we need to be more consistent from the first half to the second half," Braun said. "It's important for us to keep up that defensive consistency to take some pressure off of the offense."Sophomore point guard Max Guercy said even after the 41-point output against Tulane, the Owls are still more worried about their presence on the defensive end. Guercy said that eventually, the team will start to convert and hit some open shots."The coaches wanted to make sure we were better defensively, and the offense will take care of itself," Guercy said. "Once we get our groove back, we will be OK."Senior guard Austin Ramljak said the team is constantly running drills in practice to improve its defensive aggressiveness. Ramljak said the drills have been both individually and team-focused."We have done a lot of competitive stuff," Ramljak said. "We have been running for loose balls. In addition to that, if your team gets a certain amount of stops, you can get off the court and rest. We played a game of five on five with an emphasis on defense."The Owls face Marshall on Thursday and Charlotte on Saturday. The Thundering Herd is currently 6-13 overall and 0-4 in conference play, while the 49ers are 12-5 overall and 3-1 in conference play.Last season, the Owls barely missed recording their only road win of the season against the Thundering Herd, losing 71-70. Charlotte is new to C-USA this season, so the Owls did not play the 49ers last year.Braun said being back at home will provide some inspiration for his players, but they cannot rely on the home crowd to win. He said the emphasis has to be on consistency from both ends of the floor."They are both very athletic teams and will both be a major challenge for us, but we are glad to be back home," Braun said. "We had two games at home two weeks ago that we could have won, so we will take that experience forward and know that being at home is not a magic potion. It does not ensure us of anything."
Rice men's basketball has not had a successful 2014 up to this point, dropping its first two conference contests. The Owls lost to Florida International University 71-60 on Wednesday, Jan. 8 and Florida Atlantic University 73-68 on Saturday, Jan. 11. With the losses, the Owls are now 5-10 overall and 0-2 in Conference USA play.Head Coach Ben Braun said the team played well in stretches, but let up mostly on the defensive end in critical situations. Braun said he was critical of the team after the loss to FAU because the team lost the defensive edge it had in the first half. He said the Owls let FAU back into the game when it should have been a comfortable win."We did not maintain our aggressiveness defensively," Braun said. "[FIU] knocked down some shots, and we needed to get out there and force their shooters to drive. That hurt us, and we went through a drought ourselves [during that period]."Even though the losses were a disappointing start to conference play, freshman forward Sean Obi said there were positives that could be taken from each game. Obi said the team has room for improvement and growth and that with each practice, the Owls are learning to play with one another. "The main thing I am going to take away from those games is that we are going to get better," Obi said. "It's going to take us a little bit of time ..., but we are going to play better and win. We don't want to be at the bottom of our conference [to start the season]."Braun said defense will be the main focus during practice this week. He said the offense was flowing nicely, but it was difficult for the team to get the necessary defensive stops to keep the Owls in the game, and this had to be changed."Over a two-hour practice Monday, we spent an hour and 40 minutes on defense," Braun said. "We had to stay on the floor until we got stops. Some of our drills went pretty long, but we had to get consecutive stops. It was a lesson for our guys that we have to continue playing even when our shots are not falling."Obi said he agreed with Braun. He said the team cannot win games until its defensive lapses are fixed."Our offense is not bad," Obi said. "On defense, we need to get stops. There's no way we are going to win if we do not play better defense. We need to help each other out."The Owls hit the road for the first time this conference season to play the University of Southern Mississippi (14-3 overall, 1-1 C-USA) on Thursday, Jan. 16 and Tulane University (9-8 overall, 1-1 C-USA) on Saturday, Jan. 18. Last season, the Owls lost 75-52 to Southern Miss and lost 89-64 to Tulane.Braun said Southern Miss is one of the best teams in the league and that it will be extremely difficult to beat the Golden Eagles on their home court."Southern Miss is just as good as anybody in our league, and they are certainly going to be good at home," Braun said. "They play a really tenacious zone, and they press."Tulane is one of Rice's major rivals in C-USA, especially after the University of Houston moved to the American Athletic Conference in 2013, Braun said."Tulane has always been a big rival for us on the road, and they have a bunch of good offensive players," Braun said. "They have been strong at the guard play this year, so we have to go out and stop their shooters."Braun said winning on the road is one of the most difficult things to do in college sports, let alone college basketball, but the Owls have been successful this year with wins at Texas A&M University, Corpus Christi (63-61) and Santa Clara University (67-66). Braun said teams grow on the road and he expects it to be no different for this group of players. "It does not get easier, but the road defines you," Braun said. "We have done it, and we can do it again."
For the first time since the Dwight D. Eisenhower administration, the Rice football team has a chance to win an outright conference championship after beating Tulane University 17-13 last Saturday, Nov. 30. With the victory, the Owls won the Conference USA West Division and will be hosting the conference title game this Saturday, Dec. 7 against Marshall University at 11 a.m.Head Coach David Bailiff said he was extremely impressed with the defense's performance Saturday, which held the Green Wave to 10 total yards and zero first downs in the first half. Bailiff said the entire defense worked together to contribute to the win."It was a fabulous effort by all 11 of the [defensive] players that were on the field," Bailiff said. "I was really pleased with them and the effort they gave."Redshirt senior defensive end Tanner Leland agreed with Bailiff and said each individual defender knew his job and helped the team perform as a single unit, stopping the Tulane offense."Overall, the defense understood that each person had a job in order to contain the offense," Leland said. "To stop the offense, we had to play unselfish defense. Our [defensive backs] played great, as every ball was contested."Going into this week's contest, the Owls are facing Marshall, which was crowned the C-USA East Division champion after beating East Carolina University 59-28 at home on Nov. 29. The last time the Owls played the Thundering Herd was Sep. 22, 2012. Marshall won by the slightest of margins, 54-51, in double overtime. The Owls have not lost at home since and are currently riding an eight-game winning streak at Rice Stadium.Bailiff said Rice needs to limit its turnovers offensively. He said these mistakes cannot be made against Marshall, which boasts the highest-scoring offense in the conference, averaging 44.6 points per game."Against Marshall, we cannot make mistakes, as they are explosive offensively, both in passing and rushing," Bailiff said. "In addition, they are one of the top defenses in the conference."Leland expressed praise for Marshall junior quarterback Rakeem Cato, who has thrown for over 3,000 yards and has 34 touchdowns and just eight interceptions this season. Leland said it is hard to rattle Cato since he has a firm grasp of the Thundering Herd's offense and rarely makes mistakes."Cato is incredible," Leland said. "He kind of sits back there, commands the offense [and] knows who is open, and it will be difficult to contain him and the rest of the team."Leland said despite Cato's skill, the Owls' defense is not going to be intimidated and will not back down."Marshall's offense will motivate us," Leland said. "It's a challenge, and everyone here rises to challenges. We embrace them. Their offense is good, and hopefully we can stop them."Throughout the season, Bailiff has pointed to the Owls' veteran leadership as a strong point for the team. He said these players never gave up after the struggles in their first two seasons and have showed a lot of heart and determination. According to Bailiff, these veteran players refused to give up until they achieved their goal: a berth in the C-USA championship game."With the 19 fifth-year seniors, they never fragmented, and they always believed they could succeed, winning 13 of their last 17 games," Bailiff said. "They wanted to win the West Division and win the conference championship, so kudos to them that they kept working hard even when the times were bad."Redshirt senior quarterback Taylor McHargue said getting to this conference title game means a lot to the seniors who endured a combined 8-16 record their first two seasons. "It was tough early on," McHargue said. "The first couple of years were not really good, but we did not lose faith. We had trust as a class that we would bounce back. [Winning conference] was always the goal. We said coming into the season that it was an expectation to compete for a conference championship. We are happy to be here, but we are ready to finish the deal."McHargue said he has noticed a change in the atmosphere around campus. He said people have been coming up to him and other players to congratulate them on their success. McHargue said he knows the support will be there come Saturday."The culture and attitude is changing around here," McHargue said. "The students are getting behind us, and it means the world that they are coming out and supporting us. We would love to see everyone out this Saturday."