One of the more unheralded transfers from last year’s class, Sir’Jabari Rice came to Texas from New Mexico State. In his time in New Mexico, Rice amassed 74 starts including two tournament games last year. Texas knew some of what Rice would bring to Austin: experience, great defense, better 3-point shooting than was on the roster last year, and elite shooting from the free-throw line. Rice has delivered on those knowns and much more while filling the role of 6th man for the horns. But maybe the most unique part of his game is the beautiful shot fake that is quickly making him a fan favorite.
Rice has asserted himself as a consistent scorer on an offense too often riding on the highs and lows of Marcus Carr and Tyrese Hunter. He is currently shooting 45% from the floor and 30% from three, and his shooting ability opens up the most mystifying part of his game: the shot fake. The legend of this shot fake is young, yet quickly growing. At this point in the season, it is on the scouting reports. It is talked about by the announcers. The defenders KNOW it is coming. They have seen how silly Rice’s past victims have looked. And yet, they are helpless all the same.
So effortless. So graceful. So precise. His ability to make it look exactly like a normal shot until the very last second is so impressive. It adds to his ability to score in multiple ways, which often results in him coming up with big buckets when it matters most.
And with that shot fake, Rice is also able to draw more fouls. As an 87% free throw shooter, more opportunities at the line essentially equates to free points. In fact, it is that dependability at the free throw line that has made Texas fans fall in love with Rice even more. Texas has been in 8 games decided by 10 points or less with a record of 7-1 in those games. Rice’s ability to hit clutch FT’s time and time again has no doubt had a major impact on those results. Last Saturday against Texas Tech, Rice was 8-10 from the FT line with six of those 10 coming in the final 20 seconds of the game. Those clutch shots put the game away despite two miracle three-pointers for Tech tried to keep them in it.
By coming off of the bench, Rice is often in a position to provide a spark to an offense that too commonly finds itself in a lull. His late-game free throw heroics and ability to hit a big shot at just the right time make his impact jump off the screen. As Texas continues on in Big 12 play and into the NCAA tournament, they will have to continue to rely on Rice’s consistent shooting – and fake shooting – if they want to maximize the season.