GAME NOTES: Longtime Lone Star State rivals square off in Austin on Saturday afternoon, as the Texas Longhorns play host to the Rice Owls.
The early part of the season has been a struggle for Rice, as it sits with just a 3-8 record. Even a recent five-game homestand couldn't cure the Owls' woes, as they went 2-3 during the three-week run at Tudor Fieldhouse, most recently dropping a heartbreaker to TCU last Saturday, 65-63.
By the program's lofty standards, Texas has had a relatively sluggish start to the season, losing five of its first 12 games. However, three of those defeats came at the hands of very good teams, as it has dropped neutral-court decisions to Georgetown (64-41) and UCLA (65-63), and it fell at Michigan State last Saturday, 67-56. The Longhorns can hang their hat on terrific play on their home floor however, as they are 6-0 in Austin at the moment.
In a rivalry that has lived on for nearly 100 years, Texas has a comfortable lead over Rice, 134-58. The Owls have dropped seven games in a row to the Longhorns dating back to 1996.
After being down by as many as 18 points in the second half versus TCU, Rice mounted a furious comeback to make it just a one-point game with 13 seconds remaining, but a Tamir Jackson 3-pointer at the buzzer did not fall and it came up just short. Jackson finished with a team-high 25 points, although he was spotty from the floor (7-of-17). Julian DeBose added 12 points and Seth Gearhart tacked on 11 points in the setback. Although the Owls shot a respectable 45.5 percent from the field in their latest game, on the season, they are Conference USA's least-effective team at the offensive end of the floor, ranking last in both field goal percentage (.396) and points per game (59.5). Despite his team's struggles, Jackson has been a consistent source of points, ranking second in the league with 18.0 ppg, but his percentages from the field (.391) and the free throw line (.661) haven't been strong. Jackson also leads the team in rebounding (6.9 rpg), assists (2.3 apg) and steals (16), while DeBose chips in with 9.9 ppg and 5.5 rpg.
Texas actually led nationally-ranked Michigan State at halftime of last week's game (33-28), but it managed to make just 9-of-30 shots from the field after intermission (.300) as it allowed the Spartans to complete the come-from- behind victory. Julien Lewis led the way for UT with 16 points, and Sheldon McClellan added 13 points, albeit on just 3-of-10 shooting from the field. Javan Felix (six points) wasn't much of a factor on the scoreboard, but the freshman made an impression by handing out a career-high 11 assists. The Longhorns' poor shooting night wasn't far off from the norm, as they connect on a disappointing 40.4 percent of their field goal attempts for 64.5 ppg, but they are able to claim a winning record thanks to an outstanding effort at the defensive end, as their .338 field goal percentage against ranks in the top- five nationally. McClellan (15.3 ppg) and Lewis (12.0 ppg) are the only players to average double figures on a nightly basis, and Felix's 6.4 apg ranks tied for 14th in the country.
The combination of UT's stout defensive play and its great track record at home spells trouble for the struggling Owls.