Cougars overcome double-digit deficit against rival Rice
Despite a slow start and being down double-figures at one point, the University of Houston rebounded to beat Rice 54-52 in the Dickie’s Shootout at the Toyota Center on Saturday.
The Owls were in the spirit of giving, turning over an inbounds pass in the closing seconds that helped clinch the win for the Cougars.
“Santa Claus came early,” said head coach James Dickey. “I’m really proud of our guys and the way they competed and we got stops when we needed to.”
Junior forward TaShawn Thomas put up 16 points and 10 rebounds, with six of the last nine points being his.
Freshman guard Jaaron Simmons made two plays that lifted the Cougars (8-5) over the Owls (5-6). Simmons, whose playing time has increased as a result of injuries limiting senior guard Tione Womack and keeping sophomore guard L.J. Rose off the floor, made a basket and an assist that gave UH a two-possession lead with less than a minute remaining. He also knocked down a free throw to give UH a five-point lead with four ticks left on the clock.
UH pulled away at the 2:11 mark in the second half with a 49-46 score and never lost the lead, scoring six more points and holding Rice to six, with the last play of the game being a buzzer-beating three by Austin Ramljack that allowed Rice to lose by only two. Ramljack led the Owls in scoring with 15 points and went 5-9 on 3-pointers.
“We made some big shots late,” Dickey said. “I thought (Simmons’) layup was big, and obviously his penetration pitch to (Thomas) put us up by four.”
The aforementioned slow start was overcome with the help of some of the more enthusiastic bench and non-dressed out players. Dickey praised the end of his bench for being enthusiastic and helping to keep the team’s collective head in the game.
“That slow start had us down hard,” Thomas said. “It took the coaches and a couple of the leaders on the team to wake up and come out and start building back the energy, especially towards the end of the second half. I don’t think we’ve played that hard this season.”
Dickey credited assistant coach Alvin Brooks with doing quality scouting work when it came to picking up shooters and defending ball schemes from Rice, holding Rice to no field goals in a 10-minute space beginning at the three-minute mark of the first half.
As a team, the Cougars had a mixed day by shooting 44 percent from the field but just 50 percent from the free-throw line, while they held the Owls to 30 percent shooting.
“I thought our guys did a great job of piggybacking and getting right in their hip pocket,” Dickey said. “I thought this was one of our better defensive efforts.”
UH, Rice express interest in continuing series
A background theme for the game was moving away from the annual ‘one and one’ days when UH and Rice shared space in Conference USA. Both coaches, however, said they would like to continue playing their cross-town rival.
“We’re used to playing it twice, and we’d sure like to get them back,” said Rice head coach Ben Braun. “We’ll continue to play this game, and I’m sure Coach Dickey and I will look at the possibility of playing here again next year.”
Dickey echoed Braun’s sentiments about the importance of the series.
“I think this has been a great series over the years for the two institutions and for the city of Houston,” said head coach James Dickey. “It goes back years and years and years. It’s an emotional game, it’s a special game and I hope it’s one that we can continue to do.”
Cougars set to begin conference play
The Cougars concluded their non-conference with a 54-52 win against Rice on Saturday. Next up, UH will face Connecticut on Dec. 31 at Hofheinz Pavilion.
It will be the Cougars’ first-ever American Athletic Conference basketball game.