Three hundred and thirty-six days ago, a dazed Texas Longhorns team took the court at the Moody Center to face off against the Rice Owls under the haze of Chris Beard’s arrest that morning for felony assault charges.
Roughly eleven months later, the Longhorns will once again take the court against the Owls on Wednesday in the Mood looking vastly different — Beard was fired back in January, five weeks before the charge against him was dropped by the Travis County district attorney, and is now the head coach for the Rebels in Oxford. Interim head coach Rodney Terry assumed the position permanently. The specter of NCAA Tournament failure no longer hangs over the program. And this Longhorns team features seven new faces.
Rice returns eight letterwinners and four starters from the last year’s team, which took two separate double-digit leads in the first half and sent the game into overtime before falling 87-81. The leading scorer for the Owls in that game, guard Quincy Olivari, is the only starter who isn’t back for Rice, but second-team All-Conference USA member Max Fiedler, who led the nation with a 73.5-percent field-goal percentage last season, is back, as is guard Travis Evee, who averaged 15.6 points per game.
In the Princeton offense run by the Owls, Fiedler acts as the team’s triggerman from the high post and recorded a team-high seven assists last year against Texas in addition to corralling eight rebounds and scoring 10 points on 5-of-7 shooting. Terry called Fiedler one of the best passers in college basketball.
“You can’t just let him play comfortable out there,” Terry said on Tuesday via Zoom. “You let him play comfortable out there, he’ll pick you apart like a quarterback. They do a great job of cutting, their guys finish cuts, and he’s always looking to make the right pass, the right play, he’s a smart player, and an underrated offensive rebounder.”
Rice as a team hits the offensive glass hard with 29 offensive rebounds on 68 missed shots through two games, an offensive rebounding rate of 42.6 percent.
“They’re gonna compete at a high level and they’re going be really good offensively, so it’s going to put a lot of pressure on us defensively to sit down and guard, block out, and finish possessions,” said Terry.
For senior forward Brock Cunningham, the team’s veteran talisman of grit and toughness, the effort in the first two games wasn’t good enough.
“I just don’t think we’ve dominated the games like we should have. Incarnate Word and Delaware State are both good teams, but you we’re not playing for early November, we’re playing for a national championship. I was a little disappointed that we didn’t take care of the games from start to finish,” Cunningham said on Tuesday via Zoom.
What Texas has done at a high level is share the basketball in averaging 21 assists per game, including five players with at least three assists in each of the first two games. The unselfishness has translated to offensive efficiency — the Longhorns are averaging 87.0 points per game on 51.7-percent shooting from the floor, including 45.8 percent from three, as well as 72.7 percent from the free-throw line.
Reducing turnovers, however, is a priority after 20 giveaways on Friday against Delaware State.
“We encouraged you know our guys to make a simple play, hitting the open man, that alone can cut down on your turnovers,” said Terry. “But we have veteran guards and they’ve played a lot of college basketball — over the course of the season, we’ll get better and better in that area.”
Texas leads the all-time series against Rice 139-59.
How to watch:
TV: Longhorn Network
Time: 8:00 p.m. Central
Odds: The Longhorns are 18-point favorites at DraftKings.
Odds/lines are subject to change. T&Cs apply. See draftkings.com/sportsbook for details.