Rice basketball upset conference favorite UAB at home on Saturday, earning the marquee win of head coach Scott Pera’s tenure to date.
Ranked No. 38 in the NET rankings and No. 48 in KenPom, UAB entered Tudor Fieldhouse on Saturday as the overwhelming favorites in Conference USA. They left with a loss at the hands of a now surging Rice basketball squad that has won two in a row at home.
When asked where the win ranked among the top moments of his tenure, Rice basketball head coach Scott Pera formed his hand into a thumbs up and raised it higher and higher until it left the screen of the Zoom call and continued to climb. “The Marshall win last year was tremendous. We’ve had some other big ones here too,” he said with a grin,” but I don’t remember one bigger than this.”
Wins like that don’t come easy. UAB led Rice by five points at halftime. The Blazers were shooting a staggering 60 percent from the field at that point and had seemed very much like the same team that had knocked Rice out of the conference tournament last March.
Pera and his team persevered. The fifth-year headman gave a nod to his assistant coaches that helped develop the game plan and reinforced to his team it would work.
“They never wavered in their belief that they can win the game. And that’s where it started,” he said. “If you don’t believe, you have no chance. And we believed.”
The Owls’ belief was tested early in the second half. UAB opened up a 10 point lead, but just when it seemed like the Blazers might pull away, the Owls’ shots started to fall. Travis Evee scored 17 of his 25 points in the second half. Carl Pierre contributed 13 of his 19 points after the break. Likewise, Mylyjael Poteat scored 14 of his 18 in the final 20 minutes.
Rice basketball also doubled down on their early control of the glass. They whipped the Blazers on the boards, outrebounding their foes 38-27. The 10 point lead by the visitors slowly dwindled. Pierre connected on a triple with 4:33 to put Rice in front for good before Evee iced the game with eight free throws in the final minute.
Player Spotlight | Mylyjael Poteat
Poteat battled injuries last season but was able to play a modest role down the stretch. He’s continued to grow this year, flashing here and there, but never truly becoming a consistent fixture on the floor, at least not until Saturday.
“Tonight, he was the difference. There’s no question about it. He was tremendous,” coach Pera said following the win. He praised Poteat’s renewed work ethic and credited his willingness to put in the extra work that paid off for Rice in this game. Poteat’s 18 points were a career-high. He also added seven rebounds.
Stat Corner | Win inside
The usual three-point-happy Owls were more balanced against the Blazers, repeating echoing traces of an inside-first mentality that helped propel them to a win over MTSU two days prior. UAB outscored Rice in the pain 42-34, but the 34 point total is night and day different from the 18 points in the paint they scored against Middle Tennessee or the 16 they mustered against North Texas.
Rice basketball made eight threes against UAB, tying the second-lowest total they’d had in a winning performance this year. Two games aren’t quite enough for a trend, but it’s a notable growth moment for a team that has lived and died by the three for so long.
Rice out physical-ed UAB in this game. They won on the boards. They found success in the paint. And most importantly. they played sound defense in key moments and hit their free throws. In every way, this looked like a complete basketball team on Saturday.
Final Box | Rice 85 – UAB 80
FINAL | Rice 85 – UAB 80 pic.twitter.com/lBmlfH4qdZ
— The Roost (@AtTheRoost) January 8, 2022
Up Next | Full Schedule
Rice basketball will get a few extra days to enjoy this win. Their next tip doesn’t come until Thursday night when they kick off road trip against Western Kentucky before heading to Marshall on Saturday.
Photo credit Maria Lysaker
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