GAME NOTES: The Louisiana Tech Bulldogs will try keep up in the Conference USA's race for first place as they battle the Rice Owls at the Thomas Assembly Center.
Rice had the week off after its 66-56 home loss to Tulsa last Saturday. Coach Ben Braun's team has lost three of its last four games to fall to a 7-16 overall record, which includes a 2-7 mark in true road tests. The Owls have been decent defensively and held their opponents to just over 70 ppg, but they are averaging only 64.8 ppg to rank 14th in the C-USA in scoring offense. Rice is also last in the conference in rebounding margin with an average of minus-3.9 rpg than its foes.
The Bulldogs continued their inaugural tour through the C-USA last weekend with a 90-75 victory over the North Texas Mean Green. The win extended LaTech's current winning streak to three and improved its league record to 9-2. Coach Michael White and his squad can not afford to slip up since they are currently tied with Southern Miss, Texas-El Paso and Middle Tennessee atop the conference standings. LA Tech has been nearly invincible in its own arena this season with just one loss in 12 outings.
The Owls and Bulldogs battled twice each year for four seasons from 2001-05 as Western Athletic Conference rivals, but the most recent meeting took place on March 3, 2005. LaTech owns a 7-5 all-time series lead.
The Owls' ability to catch fire from the perimeter helped them in their 10- point loss to Tulsa. Rice outscored the Golden Hurricane, 21-6, from behind the 3-point line and received a solid performance out of Max Guercy, who finished with 17 points, four rebounds and four assists. Freshman forward Sean Obi narrowly missed his 10th double-double of the campaign with nine points and 12 boards. Rice could not contain the Golden Hurricane inside which resulted in a 32-20 disadvantage in points in the paint. The 5-foot-9 Guercy is the third leading scorer on the team behind senior guard Austin Ramljak (11.9 ppg) and Obi (11.8 ppg, 9.9 rpg).
LaTech has already piled up 20 wins because of its excellence on the offensive end. The Bulldogs are ranked fifth nationally in points per game (84.2) and 11th in assists per game (16.5). They are also one of Division I's best at pulling down boards and average 40.3 rpg. In its most recent outing, LaTech turned the ball over just nine times and outscored North Texas at the charity stripe, 32-12. Junior point guard Kenneth Smith registered a double-double with 16 points and 10 assists, while Kenyon McNeail came off the bench to produce a team-high 18 points. Smith is not usually a big-time scorer, but he is dealing out a C-USA leading 7.6 apg. Although LaTech is still missing its leading scorer Raheem Appleby (16.1 ppg), Alex Hamilton (15 ppg) and Chris Anderson (11.5 ppg) have had no trouble picking up the slack while he has been out recovering.
The Owls have a very slim chance of keeping pace with LaTech. The Bulldogs are too deep and athletic for Rice, which will have trouble getting open looks on the perimeter versus LaTech's relentless backcourt.
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