Rice basketball hung around for a while, but couldn’t keep pace with UAB, bowing out in the second round of the Conference USA Tournament.
It was going to take an extremely well-played game for Rice basketball to give UAB a run for its money. The Owls did not get that out of the gate, turning the ball over frequently and falling behind 12-5 in the first five minutes. Rice collected itself and made some threes, retaking the lead 16-12 on an 11-0 run.
In that span, Rice looked comfortable on both sides of the court. They protected the basketball and took advantage of UAB’s mistakes. They hung tough through the ensuing UAB run, falling behind by 10 before firing back to make it a two-point game with one minute remaining before the halftime buzzer. Travis Evee and Max Fiedler provided almost all of the scoring on an unusually quiet night from Quincy Olivari.
It was at that one-minute mark when the poise of UAB made the difference. Rice fouled a three-point shooter, allowed a separate three-point shot and a dunk, all in the span of 57 seconds. Just like that, Rice was back down by 10 in a game they had largely played evenly with one of the conference’s best teams.
Rice would get within five early in the second half, but another rash of turnovers and the unstoppable play of UAB’s Jelly Walker proved too much. He made four consecutive three-point shots, sparking a 15-4 UAB run. Up 17 points at the under-12 timeout, Rice was unable to dig out of the hole, falling in the second round and seeing their regular season come to an end.
Final Box | UAB 87 – Rice 60
FINAL | UAB 87 – @RiceMBB 60 pic.twitter.com/6rfGxmDTdi
— The Roost (@AtTheRoost) March 10, 2023
Key takeaway | Talented, but flawed
In many ways, the two-game sample of the Conference USA Tournament summed up the Rice basketball season. The Owls found a way to hang on to a win against a UTSA team below them in the standings, but it took a last-second prayer to make it happen. Then they rose to the occasion and gave a really good UAB team a scare, only for their inconsistent ball handling and spotty defense to be exposed late.
Evee hit just about everything on Thursday night. Fiedler was the key piece in the middle. Olivari had an off night, but we’ve seen him drop 20+ on a regular basis. Mekhi Mason and Cameron Sheffield have both produced throughout the year. One can’t question the raw talent on this team. But for whatever reason, it wasn’t enough.
Head coach Scott Pera is going to have to take a hard look in the mirror this offseason and find a way to reassemble the pieces in a way that produces more consistent results. The talent is there.
Up Next | ???
Rice basketball finished the regular season 16-16 last year and earned an invite to the CBI. At 18-15 this season, they’re probably in line to return to that tournament again, should they decide that’s something they’d want to do. Pera has talked in the past about how important postseason basketball is to the program, so it seems likely the Owls 2022-2023 campaign will have at least one more stanza.
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