AUSTIN (KXAN) — Late in games against the Texas Longhorns, opponents probably shouldn’t foul the guy wearing No. 10. Just ask TCU and Texas Tech how that went.
Jabari Rice, a graduate transfer from New Mexico State, arrived in Austin after a 4-year career with the Aggies of the Western Athletic Conference and has become one of the most effective sixth men in the country. He was a three-time selection all-WAC selection with the Aggies and helped them to the second round of the NCAA Tournament last year, but he’s found his niche for the Longhorns as a late-game foul shooter and spark off the bench.
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“My teammates keep me motivated and confident,” Rice said. “I haven’t had good first halves the past couple games, but it happens. You just have to find a way to help the team. I’m trying to be that guy that does whatever the team needs.”
To help close out two come-from-behind wins against No. 17 TCU and Texas Tech, Rice went 8-for-10 from the foul line in the final 20 seconds combined to lift the Longhorns to a pair of wins after being down by double digits in both matchups.
Rice hit three foul shots in a 6-second span to end the game for the Longhorns in a 79-75 win on Jan. 11 over the Horned Frogs, and then he hit five free throws in the final 20 seconds to help hold off Texas Tech 72-70 on Saturday.
Rice has played in all 17 games for the Longhorns this season, averaging 24 minutes per game without a start, yet he’s still the team’s fourth-leading scorer at 10.4 points per game and the team’s best foul shooter at nearly 87%. He’s 46-for-53 from the foul line this season, making him No. 52 in the country in free throw percentage. At New Mexico State, Rice shot 79% from the foul line.
It’s just part of his game that’s making opposing coaches notice and gameplan around what he does, even coming off the bench.
“He’s a winner and a tough kid,” Texas Tech head coach Mark Adams said about Rice after Saturday’s game. “He’s got that unique shot fake that we talked about all week, and he got us on it a couple of times. He comes off the bench and gives them a lot of energy and plays hard.”
The shot fake that Adams eluded to is something out of a Looney Tunes sports special. It’s like the ball is glued to Rice’s hands when he begins his motion to make defenders think he’s going to pull the trigger, and then he doesn’t. The defender goes sailing past him in an almost comical attempt at blocking Rice’s shot when he never had any intent to shoot it at all. Rice then calmly finishes the job either by scoring, getting fouled or both, all while making defenders trying to get back in the play look silly.
He does it to his teammates, too.
“You’re gonna jump,” Longhorns forward Timmy Allen said after the TCU game. “It doesn’t matter if you know it’s coming. It’s too good.”
Rice said it’s just another facet of his game he’s worked hard on in an effort to be a player his teammates can rely on, regardless of the situation.
“It’s something I’ve kind of perfected at this point and I used it to not only my advantage, but also my teammates’ advantage,” Rice said.
When asked if he was surprised how often his shot fake gets him open, Rice answered with a straight face, “Honestly, no.”
Rice has led the Longhorns’ reserve players to 28.5 bench points per game, ranking No. 24 in the country. He’s shooting 46% from the field and 31% from 3-point range, and he’s taking care of the basketball while on the floor with a 1.75:1 assist-to-turnover ratio. He’s blocked nine shots and has 14 steals on the season, as well.
Against TCU, Terry said he challenged Rice at halftime to give the team all he had. Rice responded by scoring all 15 of his points in the second half.
“He shoots the ball well and we want him to be a guy that makes shots from the perimeter,” Terry said. “We needed his minutes as an older player to take care of the basketball and give us some good defense on the other end.”
Texas (15-2, 4-1 Big 12 Conference) could see their national ranking improve when the Associated Press releases new poll results Monday, and they’re going to defend it immediately against the No. 14 Iowa State Cyclones. The Longhorns and Cyclones meet Tuesday in Ames, Iowa.
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