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Texas had a six-game winning streak come to an end against Michigan State but still has a chance to go into Big 12 play on a high note if it can get past visiting Rice on Monday. The Longhorns rely on a balanced offense and strength on the interior but are having some issues on the defensive end against high-quality opponents. The Owls are struggling to string wins together and hope to avoid back-to-back losses to in-state rivals.
Texas won at North Carolina on Dec. 18, but could not make it two in a row against storied programs with a 92-78 setback against the Spartans three days later. “We grew up a lot,” guard Javan Felix said of the tough week, “but we expect to go out and win every game that we play.” Felix (10.9) is one of five players averaging double figures in scoring for the Longhorns, though he is shooting 32.8 percent from the field and is 14-for-51 over the last four contests.
TV: 2 p.m. ET, Longhorn Network
ABOUT RICE (5-6): The Owls’ last six games have been decided by an average of 4.2 points, with two going to overtime. Rice lost in overtime to Rider on Nov. 29 and suffered its last two setbacks by two points apiece, including a 54-52 loss at Houston on Dec. 21. Austin Ramljak scored 15 points on 5-of-9 from 3-point range in the loss and has connected on at least four 3-pointers in each of the last four games. Ramljak rarely ventures inside the arc, and only five of his 48 field-goal attempts over the last four contests have been for two points - none of those five connected.
ABOUT TEXAS (10-2): The Longhorns went 16-18 last season but are feeling much more optimistic about the 2013-14 campaign due in part to the presence of freshman guard Isaiah Taylor. The California native went for 16 points against both North Carolina and Michigan State but coach Rick Barnes still seems room for improvement in his game. “He’s a terrific player,” Barnes said, “but where he is going to have to understand is game planning. Because of what he does, that is where he is going to have to adjust. … He’s very competitive and at times, he thinks he can just put his head down and go with it.” Taylor committed four turnovers against the Spartans.
1. Texas has taken eight straight in the series, including a 57-41 win last season.
2. The Owls lead all Conference USA schools with an average of 8.91 made 3-pointers.
3. The Longhorns have had at least four players score in double figures in the last 10 games.
PREDICTION: Texas 88, Rice 67