Rice's Bishop Mency attempts to keep the ball away from Ole Miss' Terence Davis.
Rice's Bishop Mency attempts to keep the ball away from Ole Miss' Terence Davis.
Photo by John Royal

Rice Owls Wilt Under Glare of Bright Vegas Lights

College basketball coaches love to talk about how basketball is a game of runs, and how it is a game of confidence. All teams go on runs, bursting out for spurts where no shots can be missed while the opponent struggles to make a shot. It’s even an official stat made available to the media during games.

The key, coaches say, is knowing when you’re caught in another team’s run, and surviving that run with limited damage. Because runs do end, and when one run ends, it’s likely the other team will go on its own run.

That’s part of where confidence comes into play. The team on the bad end of the run must maintain its confidence when shooting the ball. It can’t go into panic because panicking makes things worse. But if you maintain your confidence, then you can get back into the game when it’s your turn to go on a run.

The Rice Owls played two games in Las Vegas this week as part of the MGM Resorts Main Event. The Owls suffered a rather embarrassing 95-68 loss to the UNLV Rebels on Monday night. It was a game where UNLV went on a run early while Rice loss all confidence on offense and started to panic. UNLV led by 27 points at the half. Rice played better in the second half and scored the same amount of points. But the Owls didn’t survive that first run, and nothing much mattered after that.

The Owls played again on Wednesday night, losing by a 79-62 score to Ole Miss. It might not look like it from the final score, but the Owls played a much better game on Wednesday. The Owls survived an early Ole Miss run. The Owls then went on a run and led late into the first half. Then the Ole Miss Rebels went on a run and took a 10-point lead, but the Owls closed with a run to end the first half and trailed only by five points.

But then Ole Miss went on a run to start the second half, and Rice lost its confidence. Rice struggled to contain the Ole Miss runs, and it struggled to regain the confidence and swagger with which it had played in the first half.

“I thought we played 40 pretty good minutes in Las Vegas, and 40 pretty bad minutes,” Owls head coach Scott Pera said Wednesday night.

The Owls experience the bright lights of Vegas's new T-Mobiel Arena.
The Owls experience the bright lights of Vegas's new T-Mobiel Arena.
Photo by John Royal

The Rice Owls are 1-4 on the season, and it looks as if this is going to be another long season for a school that has experienced many such long seasons. There is some talent on this team. Connor Cashaw and Ako Adams have shown tremendous growth as players, and Robert Martin has put in good work and improves from game to game. But the team suffered a massive loss of talent last season, talent the school was counting on for this year.

But there were good moments for the Owls. The team’s young, and it is inconsistent, but when it puts it all together for those short spurts, the team competes against all competitors. That gives game tape and game experience that Pera can give to his players to show them what happens when they have confidence and run the offense.

“I want them to see it so they believe that they can do it again, against anybody on our schedule,” he said. So there exists game tape and footage against better, more talented teams, that Pera can show to his guys to prove it does all work.

It does need to be remembered that it’s only going to get worse before it gets better. The reason that Rice was playing this series in Las Vegas was to up its strength of schedule and increase its profile before heading into conference play. It was a schedule put together by former coach Mike Rhoades to aid the Owls in a quest for what many hoped might be a NCAA bid this season. Then Rhoades left, lots of his players left, and the Owls were stuck with the schedule.

“We have a very, very challenging schedule, Pera said. “I knew that going into the season. So there are certain games and certain nights where we need to pull through and get Ws…[but] we have to learn how to win, as well.”

The best player for Rice in both games was junior guard Connor Cashaw. He finished with 13 points in the UNLV loss, and put up 24 points against Ole Miss on Wednesday night. Cashaw has also assumed a leadership role with the team, trying to help a really young squad adjust to life at Rice and life in Division One basketball. And he thinks this trip to Las Vegas was a way to help the players further bond together as a team.

“It’s huge for us,” Connor Cashaw said. “We’re very grateful for this trip. It’s a very a special tournament. A very special event going on here. We recognize that as a unit we grew closer off the court. This going to help on the court. It’s going to translate.”

The next chance for the Owls s is on Saturday night when the Owls host St. Thomas.

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