Houston travels to Rice for Conference USA Showdown

Jan. 22, 2008

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After opening its Conference USA schedule with a 2-0 record for the first time in school history, the University of Houston men's basketball team travels across town to Reliant Arena for a C-USA game against Rice University on Wednesday night. The game tips off at 7:00 p.m. The Cougars enter the game with a 13-3 overall record and a 2-0 Conference USA mark after beating SMU 99-71 in Dallas on Jan. 16 and UTEP 77-72 last Saturday afternoon in Hofheinz Pavilion.

Rice enters the game with a 3-14 record this season, and the Owls are 0-4 mark in Conference USA games after falling 61-56 at Tulane last Saturday. The Owls also fell 66-47 against Marshall on Jan. 9, 71-48 at UTEP on Jan. 12 and 77-50 against Memphis on Jan. 16. Rice won its third game on Dec. 29 with a 70-65 victory over TCU at the Merrell Center in Houston.

Houston and Rice will meet for the 66th time Wednesday night, and the Cougars enter the game with a 51-14 series record against the Owls. However, the Cougars have not won a road game at Rice since Jan. 13, 1996 when the Cougars won a 63-59 decision. Since then, Houston has lost five straight games on Rice's Autry Court. The two teams will meet in Reliant Arena while Autry Court is being renovated this season. Last season, Houston suffered a 76-71 loss at Rice before winning 70-63 in Hofheinz Pavilion and 77-62 in the semifinals of the Conference USA Tournament at Memphis.

After opening up a 55-31 lead with 15 minutes to play, Houston would make only two baskets in the final eight minutes of the game and committed 11 second-half turnovers to allow Rice win 76-71 at Autry Court on Jan. 17, 2007.

Houston used runs of 11-0 and 14-0 to open up a 42-24 lead at halftime. The Cougars extended that lead to 55-31 with 15:03 left to play on Dion Dowell's three-point basket. But, Rice began using full-court pressure to disrupt Houston's offensive rhythm and that resulted in 11 turnovers in the second half. On the offensive end, senior forward Morris Almond was able to get to free throw line on a regular basis.

The Cougars had held Almond to 2-for-7 from the field in the first half, but the Owls began posting him up in the second and he was able to score 19 points in the second half, most of which came from the free throw line. He ended the game making 18 of his 20 free throws en route to scoring 28 points for the Owls.

Rice went on a 37-12 run over the next 12:36 to take a 68-67 lead on Chris Hagan's steal and lay-up off an inbounds pass with 2:24 left to play.

Robert McKiver hit two free throws to give Houston a 69-68 lead. However, the Owls responded with six straight points for the victory as Almond made two free throws with 1:06 left for a 70-69 Rice lead and Lorenzo Williams hit a three-pointer with 33 seconds remaining for a 73-69 Owl lead.

Almond then made three of four free throws in the final 19 seconds.

McKiver led Houston with 21 points, but made just one of his nine field goal attempts in the second half. Oliver Lafayette added 15, while Jahmar Thorpe and Dowell each scored 11 for the Cougars.

Paulius Packevicius and Greg Killings each scored 11 points for the Owls.

Wednesday night marks the first time since 1984 and just the second time overall that Houston and Rice will play at an off-campus arena in the City of Houston. The Cougars and Owls played the first game in the series at the Astrodome on Jan. 8, 1972, and played at the Summit during the 1984 Southwest Conference tournament.

Picked to tie UAB for second place in a poll of Conference USA coaches, the Cougars feature five seniors on its roster. Preseason All-Conference USA selection Robert McKiver averages 20.0 points, 4.1 rebounds, 2.1 assists and 1.5 steals per game.

McKiver recorded his eighth 20-point game of the season at SMU and has recorded three 30-point performances this season. He also has tied his own school record of nine three-point field goals in a game twice this season.

Dion Dowell averages 12.7 points per game and is the team's rebounding leader with an 8.1 average. He averaged 12.0 points and 7.0 rebounds in Houston's first two Conference USA games against SMU and UTEP.

The only player to start every game this season is senior forward Tafari Toney, who is averaging 7.1 points and 6.0 rebounds per game after netting 49 points and 36 rebounds in Houston's last four games.

Lanny Smith leads the team in assists with 4.4 per game after recording five assists in nine games this season. Smith also scored a season-high of 12 points at Massachusetts and 11 points against Kentucky.

Freshman guard Brockeith Pane is averaging 9.6 points per game and has scored in double figures seven times this season. Sophomore guard Kelvin Lewis is averaging 8.7 points and 3.9 rebounds after posting a career-best 17 points and five rebounds against UTEP.

Houston's other freshman guard Zamal Nixon is averaging 8.0 points per game and has scored a career-best 24 points against Arizona.

Rice enters Wednesday night's game with Paulis Packevicius averaging 10.8 points and 9.2 rebounds after he tallied 12 points at Tulane and recording 13 points and 12 rebounds against Memphis. Rodney Foster scored 13 points, four assists and four steals at Tulane after sitting out the previous two games against UTEP and Memphis. Foster averages 9.8 points and 2.6 assists per game. Lawrence Ghoram led the Owls with 16 points at Tulane after making all six of his shots from the field, including one three-point basket and 3-4 free throws. He is averaging 6.8 points and 3.4 rebounds per game. Patrick Britton averages 8.4 points and 5.1 rebounds per game this season, and has started 14 games for the Owls.

Kelvin Lewis, Robert McKiver and Tafari Toney combined for 44 points to lead Houston to a 77-72 victory over UTEP last Saturday afternoon in Hofheinz Pavilion.

Lewis scored a career-high 17 points to lead the Cougars while Toney recorded the first double-double performance of his career with 13 points and career-best 14 rebounds for the Cougars. McKiver added 14 points, while Lanny Smith chipped in with nine points and seven assists.

The game featured 15 lead changes and seven ties, as both teams fought back and forth through the first 26 minutes of the game before Houston took a 42-40 lead on a lay-up by McKiver. The Cougars extended their lead to four on their next possession when Lewis made one of his five three-point baskets in the game.

Houston gained an 11-point advantage lead after UTEP's Stephon Jackson and Houston's Marcus Malone each made a pair of free throws, McKiver made a three-point shot of his own and Lewis hit freshman forward Horace McGloster for a slam dunk to give the Cougars a 52-43 lead with 9:50 left to play.

UTEP fought back to within five points, 61-56, with 3:50 remaining in the game when Randy Culpepper hit his second three-point shot in the second half.

Lewis hit McGloster for another lay-up on Houston's next possession and after Marvin Kilgore missed a jump shot, Culpepper fouled McGloster. He made both free throws and Lanny Smith added to more to give the Cougars their biggest lead 67-56. Houston had three straight turnovers during the next minute as UTEP pulled to within 67-63 with 54 seconds left.

That was as close as UTEP could get as Smith made four straight free throws, Lewis made two and McKiver added another to make the final score 77-72. The victory improved Houston's record in home games to 10-1. The Cougars will return home to Hofheinz Pavilion this Saturday when the Cougars play host to Marshall at 7:00 p.m. The Cougars also play host to top-ranked Memphis on Jan. 30.



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