AUSTIN (KXAN) — Late in games against the Texas Longhorns, opponents probably shouldn’t foul the number 10 guy. Just ask TCU and Texas Tech how it went.
Jabari Rice, a New Mexico State grad, came to Austin after a 4-year career with the Aggies of the Western Athletic Conference and has gone on to become one of the most effective sixth men in the country. He was a three-time All-WAC selection with the Aggies and helped them into the second round of the NCAA tournament last year, but he found his niche for the Longhorns as a late-game foul taker and was fired from the bench.
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“My teammates keep me motivated and confident,” said Rice. “I haven’t had a good first half in the last couple of games, but it happens. You just have to find a way to help the team. I try to be the guy who does whatever the team needs.”
To cap two wins against No. 17 TCU and Texas Tech, Rice went 8-on-10 from the foul line in the final 20 seconds to lead the Longhorns to two wins after they were down in double figures in both matchups.
Rice hit three foul shots within 6 seconds to end the game for the Longhorns in a 79-75 win over the Horned Frogs on Jan. 11, and then hit five free throws in the last 20 seconds to fend 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, but he’s still the team’s fourth-best scorer with 10.4 points per game and the team’s top foul shooter with nearly 87%. He’s 46-to-53 from the foul line this season, making him No. 52 in the country in terms of free-throw percentage. In New Mexico state, Rice shot 79% from the foul line.
It’s just part of his game that opposing coaches take notice and have a game plan for what he’s doing, even coming off the bench.
“He’s a winner and a tough kid,” Texas Tech head coach Mark Adams said of Rice after Saturday’s game. “He’s got that unique fake shot that we’ve been talking about all week and he’s gotten us to do it a couple of times. He comes off the bench and gives them a lot of energy and plays hard.”
The fake shot that Adams escaped was from a Looney Tunes sports special. It’s like the ball is sticking to Rice’s hands as he starts his move to make defenders think he’s going to pull the trigger, and then he doesn’t. The defender sails past him in an almost comical attempt to block Rice’s shot, despite never having any intention of shooting him in the first place. Rice then calmly finishes the job by either scoring, being fouled, or both while defenders trying to get back into the game look goofy.
He does the same with his teammates.
“You’re going to 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 that he’s worked hard to be a player his teammates can rely on no matter the situation.
“It’s something I’ve kind of perfected by that point, and I’ve used it not only to my advantage, but to the advantage of my teammates,” Rice said.
When asked if he was surprised at how often his fake shot rips him open, Rice replied with a straight face, “Honestly, no.”
Rice has led the Longhorns reserves to 28.5 bank points per game, ranking No. 24 in the country. Shooting 46% from the field and 31% from 3-point range, he takes care of the basketball while he’s on the ground with an assist-to-turnover ratio of 1.75:1. He has blocked nine shots and also has 14 steals this season.
Against TCU, Terry said he challenged Rice at halftime to give the team everything 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 who takes shots from the perimeter,” Terry said. “We needed his minutes as a senior player to take care of the basketball and give us a good defense at the other end.”
Texas (15-2, 4-1 Big 12 Conference) could see its national ranking improve when the Associated Press releases new poll results Monday, and they’ll defend it immediately against the No. 14 Iowa State Cyclones. The Longhorns and Cyclones meet Tuesday in Ames, Iowa.