“He will win whose army is animated by the same spirit throughout all its ranks.” – Sun Tzu, The Art of War

At some point the see-saw act of wins and losses this season will end – hopefully. After a gutty and quite ugly win over North Texas Thursday, the Blazers will travel down to Houston to face Rice in hopes of recording consecutive wins for the first time this season.

This isn’t the Rice team UAB is used to seeing over the years. The Blazers will not be able to just show up and skate by on their athleticism like they did at North Texas. This Owls team is as talented as any they’ve ever had and arguably better than the ones that featured Morris Almond a decade ago.

UAB is 12-1 against Rice and most recently defeated the Owls 82-70 in Birmingham last season. The 12 point margin was an indicator of just how good Rice was becoming last season as they were one of the youngest teams in the nation.

The lone victory for Rice came two seasons ago in Houston when UAB saw a 9 point lead evaporate with less than 2 minutes left to play. Rice forced the Blazers into overtime where the Owls went on to seal the deal and win by double-digits.

This season Rice has been outstanding. They’ve put up 90 and 100 points in two road victories in November when most teams are still getting their bearings. They also fared well against the big boys in a close loss at Texas Tech by one point and a highly competitive game at Pitt that sort of got away from them at the end. This team can score, and they can do it quickly. They are extremely dangerous.

Scouting The Owls

There’s a pretty good chance that this will be the starting lineup for Rice come Saturday night. Much like Middle Tennessee, the Owls are led by their own three headed scoring monster of Egor Koulechov, Marcus Jackson, and Marcus Evans.

Egor Koulechov ¦ 6-foot-5, 210 lbs. Junior

The Russian Reaper can be best described as a shorter Dirk Nowitzki with a better name. He’s listed as a guard, but is more of a forward with the skill set of a combo guard. Egor is 40-of-69 from behind the arc this season, which is a ridiculous 58 percent. I could try to predict who is going to guard him, but it’s really irrelevant. He had 31 points and 14 rebounds in their close loss to MTSU, and there’s no reason to believe he won’t do it again come Saturday.

Marcus Jackson ¦ 6-foot-3, 185 lbs. Senior

Jackson’s injury before the season began last season kept Rice from having the success they’re having this year. Jackson is the perfect upperclassmen glue guy for the Owls. Egor and Marcus Evans get all the accolades, but Jackson is the piece that holds the team together. In their loss at Pitt the senior had 20 points and kept Rice in the game when the other two weren’t seeing their shots fall in the first half.

Marcus Evans ¦ 6-foot-2, 195 lbs. Sophomore

It’s hard to believe, but Rice has the most athletic and dynamic basketball player in the conference and he’s only a sophomore. Against MTSU he had 23 points and was 5-of-9 from behind the arc. He’s a cold blooded scoring machine. He’ll finish at the rim or anywhere he pleases really. This will be Hakeem Baxter’s tallest task of the season and the Philly native had to guard Frank Mason in Novemeber.

Of the supporting cast, Cashaw is a smooth shooting guard that complements the three above well ,and Austin Meyer is their 6-foot-9 developing big man. Marquez Letcher-Ellis is a super long and skinny forward who can be really effective around the rim. He’s confident and typically plays the bench spark plug role for the Owls.

3 Things To Watch For

  1. Perimeter Defense – I should leave this in the “watch for” section for the remainder of the season. Don’t let the North Texas game fool you. They are one of the dumpiest 3-point shooting teams in the nation. Rice is one of the best. The Owls average almost nine per game.
  2. Chris Cokley – The Owls don’t have a defender who can guard Cokley. He needs to be active early and see some shots fall.
  3. Turnovers – Rice will run UAB out of the gym if they turn the ball over like they did at North Texas. For the Blazers to win this game they’ll need to limit their turnovers to less than 10 and have very few empty offensive possessions.