After an impressive opening win, Rice basketball fell back to earth as Hoston cooled the Owls’ offense and handed Rice its first loss of the season.
If there was any remaining early-season rust, the Houston Cougars didn’t show it in their meeting with Rice basketball on Friday night at the Fertitta Center. The Coogs’ defense was suffocating early, holding a typically explosive Rice offense to just five points through the first 12 minutes of play. Rice was without Chris Mullins and Quincy Olivari was limited. But no matter who was on the court, the shots just weren’t falling.
Carl Pierre opened the scoring with a dunk. 2-0 Rice. From that point onward, Rice would make one of its next 14 shots. It wasn’t just an off night for the Owls’ offense, they couldn’t find open looks anywhere. In the seconds leading up to a triple from Jake Lieppert with 6:58 to play before halftime, the Houston lead had ballooned to 17 points.
“The knockout was early,” Pera said, point-blank.
Worn down from too many fruitless trips up the court, the Rice defense which held tough early, started to slip. By the time the halftime buzzer blared across the sea of red-clad fans, Rice trailed 44-15. That was all she wrote.
“They pretty much did they wanted all night,” Pera said. “We didn’t have much resistance and we didn’t have much attack on offense to get what we wanted.”
Entering this contest, the lowest scoring output for a Pera-coached Rice basketball team was 41 points in a losing effort against FAU on Feb. 16, 2019. Just how anomalous is that? Rice has failed to reach 50 points just three times under Pera, once each in the 2017, 2018 and 2019 seasons. Conversely, the Owls had topped 90 points 10 times over that stretch.
Every team has its off nights, but this rough outing was magnified by a superb outing against one of the nation’s top teams. If the Pepperdine win was a solid launching point, this was the crash landing not long after. The reality of how good this team can and will be is most likely somewhere in between.
Houston head coach Kelvin Sampson offered a similar sentiment as he closed out his own postgame remarks. “That team could make the tournament,” he said of the Hofstra team that took Houston to overtime three nights prior, “I don’t know if they will or not, but they’re good.” Then came the twist. “Rice is probably a little better than Hofstra, but we were better tonight.”
Where does Rice fit in the mix between Houston and Hofstra? That’s what we’re going to find out over the course of the next several weeks and months. On Friday, the reality was this: whether expected or not, Rice wasn’t very close to a team coming off a trip to the Final Four.
Player Spotlight | Max Fielder
The box score might not fully reflect it, but Max Fiedler acquitted himself well for much of the game against Houston. He disrupted shooting lanes on the defensive side of the court, forcing Houston into difficult angles or bypassing the lane altogether in favor of an outside shot. On a night where Rice wasn’t securing anything that bounced off either rim, Fiedler was strong off the glass. In 22 minutes, he finished second among all players with seven rebounds.
Final Box | Houston 79 – Rice 46
FINAL | UH 79 – Rice 46 pic.twitter.com/PvxRSg2PqI
— The Roost (@AtTheRoost) November 13, 2021
Up Next | Full Schedule
Rice basketball returns home on Tuesday, November 16 to host Southern. That will be the Owls’ last home game for two weeks. They visit New Orleans on Friday, November 19 before heading to Florida to play in the Gulf Coast Showcase the following week.