For the first time under head coach Scott Pera, Rice basketball has swept Western Kentucky. The Owls knocked off the Hilltoppers again Saturday, moving to 2-0 this season.
Following an extended stretch of slow starts, Rice basketball came out red-hot against the red-clad Western Kentucky Hilltoppers on Saturday night at Tudor Fieldhouse. Quincy Olivari conducted the early onslaught, scoring 20 points in the first half alone on his way to a monster 34-point game, a career-high, along with 12 rebounds, tying a career-best.
With Olivari firing on all cylinders, the Owls were able to hold off every Hilltopper advance. Western Kentucky mounted an 11-0 run late in the first half and an 8-0 run in the opening minutes of the second half. Still, Rice kept and maintained the lead. Every time Western Kentucky got back inside of double-digits, Rice had an answer.
The game wouldn’t really get close until the final 30 seconds when Western Kentucky knocked down three long-range threes in separation mode. It still wouldn’t be enough, however, as Max Fiedler, Cameron Sheffield and Mekhi Mason knocked down enough free throws to secure the win.
The win was significant for Rice basketball for several reasons. First, it secures a winning record, Pera’s second at Rice. Second, it’s already the highest single-season win total of Pera’s tenure with four regular season games still to play. Finally, it clinches a season sweep of Western Kentucky, a first for Pera at Rice.
“It shows where we’ve come and kind of where we are,” Pera said. “It’s not about this huge peak and then Rice crashes again. No, we keep getting better, and better. And slow goes the role, I guess, there’s been no huge jumps. But it keeps improving and that is the goal.”
Final Box | Rice 83 – WKU 78
FINAL | @RiceMBB 83 – WKU 77 pic.twitter.com/08ZwvdPEar
— The Roost (@AtTheRoost) February 19, 2023
Key takeaway | Fast starts make all the difference
Against Western Kentucky, Rice baseball was the aggressor. They came out early, dictated how the game was going to be played and made Western Kentucky play catch up. Before the game, Pera stressed exactly that to his team. The Owls led at halftime in three of 15 league games and had a -90 point differential.
“I changed everything up, Pera said, “Shoot around, pregame warmup. And they responded, to their credit, with just a lot of energy and togetherness and you could see it. It was 10-0 out of the game and we’ve had a lot of 10-0’s on the other side.”
With an early lead, Rice basketball had breathing room. The pressure to make every shot didn’t seem to be there and the Owls were able to push Western Kentucky inside and limit the three ball. If the Hilltoppers were going to come back, it was going to require a steam stream of two which they ultimately could not deliver. For Rice, this is the formula for winning basketball.
Up Next: at UAB – Thursday, Feb. 22 at 6:30 p.m.
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