Before playing back-to-back games against ranked opponents, Texas warms up Sunday at home against Rice in its first game back from the Maui Invitational.
Following this matchup, the sixth-ranked Longhorns (4-1) host No. 13 UCLA on Thursday before traveling to New York for a game against No. 20 Villanova on Dec. 9 in the Jimmy V Classic.
Their only game against a Top 25 team this season didn’t turn out well, falling 81-80 to No. 8 Notre Dame in the Maui semifinals on Tuesday. Texas rebounded the next night with a 70-57 victory over Oregon in the tournament’s third-place game.
“You’re always disappointed when you don’t get to play in a championship game,” Longhorns coach Rick Barnes said. “Consolation games are really hard to play in, but I told the team last night this would be a character game and a chance to find out what we’re about.”
Damion James scored a season-high 21 points and grabbed 12 rebounds to lead Texas, but A.J. Abrams’ shooting woes continued.
The senior guard, who leads the team with 17.0 points per game, went 4-for-11 from the field Wednesday and scored a season-low nine points. That came a night after a career-worst 8-for-27 shooting performance against the Irish.
Abrams also went 5-for-17 from 3-point range in that loss, including a halfcourt attempt as time expired that hit the front of the rim, though he did finish with a team-leading 23 points. During the Longhorns’ 3-0 start, Abrams shot 48.6 percent from the field and 12-of-24 from 3-point range.
James, who leads the team with 8.6 rebounds per game, has scored in double figures in every game and is coming off consecutive double-doubles. Against Oregon, he finished 9-of-11 from the field and scored the last seven points of a 21-1 run in the first half that helped Texas take command.
“We’re obviously pleased with what Damion James did,” Barnes said. “That’s what we’re looking for from him.”
After going 3-27 last season, Rice (2-3) has alternated losses and wins under new coach Ben Braun, who spent the 12 previous seasons at California.
Shooting a season-low 29.0 percent from the field, the Owls fell 61-53 to visiting Lamar on Tuesday. Freshman Connor Frizelle scored a career-high 18 points and senior forward Aleks Perka got his first career double-double with 12 points and 10 rebounds.
Junior guard Cory Pflieger is the only Rice player averaging in double figures with 10.4 points per game, and Perka is the team’s top rebounder at 6.8 per contest. Pflieger played only five games last season due to an ankle injury and averaged 8.0 points.
Texas leads 131-59 in this series between the former Southwest Conference members and has won the last three meetings—all in Houston—since Rice’s victory at the Erwin Center in 1996. The Longhorns beat the Owls 80-54 last season as Abrams and James each scored 18 points.