There's a new attitude about Rice sports. It started with the baseball team several years ago. And it's spreading with the football team. It's no longer enough to be competitive. It's no longer enough to get the moral victory. No more of the perpetual rebuilding process. Rice sports teams are now expected to win games. Even the men's basketball team.
Mike Rhoades doesn't want to hear about rebuilding plans. The new basketball coach of the Owls expects his team to win, and he expects his team to win now. The team's undersized, and it's undermanned. The guys aren't as talented as many of the players on opposing teams, and they're not quite skilled enough to play the type of game that Rhoades eventually hopes the Owls can play -- an uptempo, pressing game -- but he's not willing to listen to excuses.
The Owls are 6-12 on the season (3-4 in conference play) and lost to Louisiana Tech by a 58-45 score on Saturday night. It was an ugly, sloppy game. Neither team shot better than 45-percent. The Owls hit only 32.6-percent of its shots for the night (an ugly 5-of-19 from behind the three point line). Toss in 18 Rice turnovers and seven missed free throws, and there was almost zero chance the Owls would the game. Louisiana Tech is 15-5 on the season (6-1 in conference) is one of the best teams in Conference USA, so Rice hanging in and staying close could be seen as a victory. But that's not how Rhoades looks at it. His team was sloppy and being close just isn't good enough.
"Tonight is an example," he said after the game. "We had to play better to beat a team like this. Were we capable of playing better today? Absolutely. If we played phenomenal and did everything right and had under 12 turnovers, then we didn't win the game, then I'd live with that forever. Today, I love our effort. Guys are trying to do the right thing. But we put ourselves on our heels. We can't play that way."
The Owls ran the offense the way he wanted the offense ran. Dumping the ball down deep and then tossing it back out to the shooter as the defense collapsed on the big man. The shots didn't fall for the Owls, but the shots were the shots Rhoades wanted, the ones the players should be taking in the flow of the offense. The Owls might not win if they make those shots, but the only chance the team has of winning is making those shots. "It wasn't lack of effort," he said about the loss. "I thought our guys did a great job of just being composed and keep[ing] fighting. We didn't shoot the ball well today. We had a lot of open threes. Now [Louisiana Tech's] length and their athleticism had something do with it...We just didn't make enough shots."
The season's about halfway over for the Owls. There have been many nights when not enough shots were made, and there'll be many more nights this season when not enough shots are made. But the Owls aren't rebuilding. They're not accepting moral victories. It's all about one thing, winning games, and winning games now.
"They are awesome kids," Rhoades says of his team. "They're so damn coachable. And they are giving me and the staff and the school everything they've got. They're awesome. And I love them for that, and I always will. But still, it's not good enough. We're here to win. And I told them. A lot of people say this is a building process, and we've just got to wait our turn. We're not waiting anyone's turn. We're going to jump people's turns. We're going to find a way."
The Owls next game is Wednesday night against the Houston Cougars at Hofheinz Pavilion. The Cougars are 7-12 on the season and losers of eight straight games. The Cougars, like the Owls, have a new head coach, and the Cougars, like the Owls, are probably tired of rebuilding and striving to be competitive. Maybe on Wednesday there'll be some answers as to which team's in better shape, closer to actually winning games now. But if the Owls lose, Mike Rhoades won't accept any excuses. He wants his guys winning games now. And he means it. And if the mood on the Rice campus is anything to believed, that's also the growing expectation of the fans and students. Enough with the rebuilding already, start with the winning.
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