Bohls: Red-hot Jabari Rice blistered Colgate from afar, and has the game to take Texas far
DES MOINES, Iowa — Jabari Rice was stumped.
He really couldn’t remember Thursday night the last time he hit seven 3-pointers in a game. He contemplated the question and really couldn’t say.
Wasn’t at New Mexico State, where he played four seasons and once connected on five against Dixie State. Hadn’t happened in his other 34 games in a Longhorns uniform.
Playing H-O-R-S-E, maybe?
“I don’t know, I scored 50 in a game in high school once,” Rice recalled. “I may have hit seven or eight threes that game, but you didn’t really keep track of things like that then.”
They track ❜em in the NCAA Tournament when they mean the most, and Rice’s barrage meant plenty for the second-seeded Longhorns. On the strength of his flurry, Texas sank 13 triples to tie the school’s postseason record and blistered Colgate 81-61 in a fairly tense opening round before pulling away in the final minutes.
Their 13 bombs also matched the number they had in a pivotal win over Gonzaga in the third game of the season. Kind of makes for good bookends to this point, but Texas is far from finished.
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Better still, those shots behind the arc kept some separation from a very plucky Colgate team. The Patriot League champions entered the game as the best-shooting team in America at 41% from 3-point range, but Texas consistently crowded them behind the line and held them to only three long-distance shots in 15 tries for an anemic 20%.
“Our goal was to keep them to six, and we held them to three,” Texas head coach Rodney Terry said as he returned to the locker room. “We wanted to hold them to 65 points and held them to 61. That’s pretty good.”
So Texas’ defense was in order every bit as much as its offense.
And when the threes weren’t falling, late-season bloomer Dylan Disu was making Colgate pay with 17 points inside, along with Christian Bishop’s eight.
There’s all kinds of ways this Longhorn team can hurt you. But they will hurt you.
Those threes — including Rice’s four straight in a span of five Texas possessions in the first half — settled down some nerves in a jittery start. They bred some confidence on the team. And they kept the Longhorns’ momentum to allow them to advance to Saturday’s Round of 32 game against 10th-seeded Penn State, which thrashed No. 7 Texas A&M 76-59.
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Rice was the focal point of one of Texas’ best shooting games of the year because Marcus Carr (17 points with four treys) and Tyrese Hunter (10 points with two deep bombs) fed off Rice’s explosion.
“That’s all within the gameplan,” Terry said. “Marcus could go for seven. Tyrese could go for seven. We got guys in our lineup that can make seven threes, and Jabari did that and had one of the biggest games in Texas history.”
Rice came within one triple of the school-record eight that A.J. Abrams, with this lightning-quick release, had in a 2009 NCAA Tournament game against Minnesota when Terry was an assistant on Rick Barnes’ staff. It also was three shy of Al Coleman’s UT-best 10 set in 1997 against Kansas State.
The 23-point performance by Rice was nothing new for arguably the best sixth man in all of college basketball. But even that’s a bit of a misnomer because he could just as easily be one of the best fifth men in the game. His game is that good.
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“He’s as good of an overall basketball player as I’ve seen all year,” said an impressed Colgate coach Matt Langel. “His intelligence, his IQ, his poise, his defense, his recognition of his teammates, his ability to step up.”
That about covers the waterfront.
Texas' 6-foot-4 transfer guard draws rave reviews as much for his selflessness as his shooting. He has started only three games for this 27-8 Texas team and only that many because starting forward Timmy Allen sat out the three Big 12 Tournament games with a lower leg injury.
Doesn’t matter to Rice. He's just as comfortable coming off the bench as he is starting at the opening tip.
And you want humility?
Rice wasn’t all that impressed with his game even though he made Wells Fargo Arena his personal playground.
“I don’t necessarily feel (I was) hot,” he said, “because I missed three.”
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Yeah, I’m thinking the coaches might overlook those three that went awry, one of which was a desperation heave from the corner in the final seconds before intermission.
Rice’s showcase wasn’t lost on his teammates.
“He’s a big-time shooter,” Disu said. “He’s so smooth, he looks like he’s shooting in slow motion.”
There’s not much Rice doesn’t excel at.
He’s certainly endeared himself to Longhorn Nation as well in his one season. The output marked his sixth 20-plus scoring game of the year, yet another reason Texas’ bench has been such a consistent weapon.
The combination of Rice, Carr and Hunter has made for big problems for opponents because they can’t focus on trying to stop any single one of them. All three are making 34% or more of their deep shots with Carr setting the pace at 36% and Rice a tad behind at 34.9%.
“He made seven threes in the first half, and they weren’t easy,” Langel said. “We were giving them those shots, but they’re off the dribble, so they were poised.”
As Texas' Brock Cunningham put it, “You just find the hot hand.”
And none was hotter than Rice’s.
This article originally appeared on Austin American-Statesman: Texas men's basketball powers past Colgate behind Jabari Rice's night