HOUSTON - Playing in his final regular-season home game at Hofheinz Pavilion, University of Houston senior guard Zamal Nixon led all players with 18 points, but it would not be enough as crosstown rival Rice claimed a 72-57 win against the Cougars on Saturday evening.
Nixon, who ranks among the Conference USA top-five individual leaders in assists, steals, free-throw percentage and assist-turnover ratio, connected on 5-of-10 shots from the field and 7-of-8 attempts from the line. The Brooklyn, N.Y, native also added four assists, a blocked shot and steal in 37 minutes.
After the Cougars moved to within 13-12 early, Rice used a 20-7 run during a 10-and-a-half minute stretch to build a lead they would never give up. The Cougars fought and clawed their way back into the game in the second half, trimming the deficit to seven points on two occasions.
However, that would be as close as Houston would get the rest of the way. With the loss, the Cougars dropped to 12-17 overall and finished at 4-12 in C-USA games. Rice improved to 13-17 overall and to 5-11 in C-USA games.
Freshman forward Alandise Harris and junior guard Darian Thibodeaux each added 12 points to pace the Cougars. Senior forward Maurice McNeil added seven points and a team-high eight rebounds in the loss.
Making the first start of his career, senior guard Cory Tellis tied with Nixon for team-high honors with four assists.
Rice forward Lucas Kuipers led four Owls in double digits with 15 points and added five rebounds. Arsalan Kazemi and Tamir Jackson each finished with 13 points, while Connor Frizzelle added 12 points with a pair of 3-pointers. Kazemi led the Owls with eight rebounds, while Jackson paced all players with five assists.
Houston will play as the No. 11 seed at next week's Buick Conference USA Championship, hosted by UTEP at the Don Haskins Center in El Paso, Texas. The Cougars meet No. 6 seed Marshall at 6:30 p.m. (CST), Wednesday in the first round of the annual tournament.
The Thundering Herd enjoyed a 63-62 win against the Cougars on Feb. 1 in Hofheinz Pavilion. It was the lone meeting between the two teams during the regular season.
The winner of Wednesday's first-round matchup will meet No. 3 seed UTEP at 6:30 p.m. (CST), Thursday, in the quarterfinals.
Fans can hear all Cougar men's basketball games live on SportsTalk 790 AM KBME with Tom Franklin calling the play-by-play action and Cougar legend Elvin Hayes serving as analyst.
* With six 3-pointers, the Cougars played their 303rd consecutive game with at least one trey.
* Prior to Saturday's game, the Cougars recognized their four-man senior class... Senior guards Cory Tellis, Zamal Nixon and Adam Brown and senior forward Maurice McNeil, along with their families, were honored for their years of service to the Cougar program.
* Junior guard Darian Thibodeaux played all 40 minutes in a game for the first time in his career... The Dallas native leads the Cougars and ranks among the C-USA individual leaders in minutes played per game.