Cougars seek out rivalry win

The Cougars hit a bump on the road to an NCAA Tournament appearance Wednesday when they suffered a two-point loss to Alabama-Birmingham, but they will have the perfect opportunity to vent their frustrations and get back on track against Conference USA bottom feeder Rice.

Houston defeated the Owls 69-60 in a road game for the first time in over a decade when it played its third conference game of the season on Jan. 23 in Reliant Arena. Autry Court was and still is being renovated, which meant the Cougars didn’t have to worry about the curse of the blue curtain or the mystic of "Autry’s Army".

They were more focused on trying to block out Rice junior forward Paulius Packevicius, who had a Marcus Camby-like night in his team’s 69-60 loss. Packevicius pulled down 20 rebounds and scored 16 points against UH senior forward Tafari Toney and 6′ 11" junior center Marcus Cousin.

Containing Packevicius and his teammate, sophomore guard Rodney Foster, will be huge parts of the game plan this go around as the Cougars attempt to go for the series sweep against the Owls for the first time since head coach Tom Penders took the reins before the 2004 season.

Penders has said before that Rice is never an easy win. Don’t forget this is still a rivalry game – one of the few times of the season when stats, records and court talent are thrown to the wayside.

The Cougars are 19-6, with an 8-3 record in Conference USA. The Owls have a 3-22 record, and if there were such thing as a C-USA loser’s tournament they’d be the undisputed No. 1 seed.

The two teams proved in their last meeting that those records will be obsolete come Saturday. Rice would be more than happy to drop the Cougars down another notch in the conference standings.

On the other hand, Houston knows it needs to make its opponents’ scores in the remaining games as disrespectable as possible by blowing out the teams it is supposed to beat. Running the score up might be a little on the unsportsmanlike side, but large margins of victory can’t hurt when it comes to impressing the NCAA Tournament Committee.

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