Rice basketball saw their season come to an end with a quarterfinals loss to UAB in the Conference USA Tournament.
Perhaps more so than any other season Rice basketball head coach Scott Pera can remember, this past season was filled with highs and lows. Whether by injury, COVID-19 precautions or both, the Owls were very rarely at full strength.
Chris Mullins was out for a stretch during the middle of the season. Travis Evee missed time. Max Fiedler suffered a broken nose that slowed him for a stretch. Mylyjael Poteat wasn’t available this week and Cam Sheffield had to leave Thursday’s game with an injury. But they persevered.
It was hard not to think about how far they’d come when they upset Marshall to advance to the quarterfinals of the Conference USA Tournament. Pera remembered.
“We lost 71 percent of our scoring from last year, our top five scores,” he recalled, before making a striking claim, “And we’re better.”
Pera didn’t mean that as a slight to those who have since moved on. But it’s hard to argue with the results. Wednesday’s upset of Marshall marked the first time was a moment Pera says he’ll cherish for a long time. But it wasn’t the only proof of growth, and that includes a season-ending quarterfinals loss to UAB on Thursday night. The loss stung because Rice had the lead with eight minutes to play. Then it disappeared.
Max Fiedler had a team-high 18 points. Quincy Olivari had 16. Rice shot 50 percent from three and 46 percent from the field. For all the good, Rice couldn’t overcome UAB’s dominant performance on the glass. The Blazers hauled in 16 offensive boards. Rice had one. In Pera’s own words, “That’s not a good stat.”
When push came to shove, UAB had more left in the tank. “Down the stretch their veterans made plays. We kind of fell flat and ran out of gas,” Pera said, noticeably choked up from his postgame conversations with the team.
Coming up short against one of the better teams in the conference won’t be how this team is remembered. There’s plenty of time to reminisce on that front. For now, Pera and his team can exhale and regroup. The loss stings, but the Owls truly believe their time is only just beginning.
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