Houston 77, Rice 62
MEMPHIS, Tenn. (AP)—Robert McKiver scored 25 points and grabbed six rebounds Friday night as Houston defeated crosstown rival Rice 77-62 in the semifinals of the Conference USA tournament.
The Cougars (18-14) built the lead to as much as 22 in the second half behind 3-point shooting. Houston connected on 6-of-12 from long-range after the break and will play fifth-ranked Memphis, a 71-49 winner over Tulane, in the title game Saturday.
Oliver Lafayette finished with 17 points, Marcus Malone had 13, Jahmar Thorpe 10 and Dion Dowell added 11 for Houston.
But it was Malone’s defense on Rice guard, Morris Almond, the conference’s player of the year, that was most impressive. Almond, who led the league in scoring and was second in the nation averaging 26.9 points per game, was held to 11 points for Rice (16-16).
Lorenzo Williams led seventh-seeded Rice with 16 points, while Patrick Britton scored 13.
Houston led 29-23 at the break behind 12 points from McKiver.
Almond had trouble getting open in the first half as Houston had Malone chasing him all over the floor. Almond managed only three points in the half, missing four of five shots from the field.
The rest of the Cougars swarmed over Rice, forcing a handful of early turnovers.
But the Owls still shot better than 50 percent and tied the game at 20 when Williams scored on a layup with 5:55 left in the half. Then Rice went cold, failing to score for more than 3 minutes, and Houston scored seven straight points for a 29-23 halftime lead.
At times, the play got sloppy with both teams putting up wild shots, making errant passes and failing to get into any offensive flow.
Almond hit his first shot of the second half, a 3-pointer 16 seconds into the period, but his offensive woes continued.
Houston just kept pushing its lead to double figures when Lafayette hit a pair of free throws with 12:44 left. Houston led by as much as 56-39 on back-to-back 3-pointers from Dowell and McKiver with 7:25 left, moving the Cougars to the championship game.