Cougars open season against Eagles
It’s not too early for a sense of urgency in the Houston locker room.
Senior guard Marcus Malone said he and the Cougars will play their season opener against Morehead State just as if they were playing in late February on the verge of having their bubble busted.
He doesn’t care if the Eagles were in the lower echelon of teams in the Ohio Valley conference, losing 13 of their final 16 games to teams like Tennessee Tech and Samford. It doesn’t even matter if Morehead State’s top two leading scorers from last season aren’t on the roster anymore.
Malone said he and the Cougars won’t be caught with their guard down for Friday’s tipoff or any other game this season. It’s only the second week of November, but for this tournament-hungry basketball team, it’s crunch time.
"We’re looking at every game as if it’s win or go home," Malone said. "That’s basically the attitude we have to have for the rest of the season. We have to approach each game like that -- each play. If we don’t do the thing’s we’re supposed to do, we could easily lose. So we have to maintain our focus."
UH doesn’t want to end up in the same situation it found itself last March heading into the Conference USA Tournament. The team doesn’t want a date with Memphis in the championship game to determine its NCAA or NIT future.
Malone said the team’s chances of making the tournament are extremely high, and anything less than the Big Dance would be more than a disappointment.
"Everyone’s healthy. No one’s hurt. We’re strong. We’ve got a lot of depth," Malone said. "It’s up to us. It’s all in our hands now. We have no excuses."
Health not an issue
Malone knows health was an issue that plagued and handicapped Houston last season. Power forward Tafari Toney didn’t crack his way into coach Tom Penders’ rotation until about midseason because he had been recovering from offseason knee surgery.
Fifth-year senior Lanny Smith played in only four games before he decided to opt for a medical redshirt because of a broken bone in his foot he suffered during a preseason pickup game.
Both said they will be ready to go for the season opener, and Toney, who’s worked his way into the starting lineup with his high energy, yet disciplined, style of play on both sides of the ball, said Friday will be especially exciting for him.
"It feels good – real good. That’s all I’ve been waiting for is just to play," Toney said. "Last year I couldn’t really play that many games because my knee would get banged up. This year it’s all about playing every single game as hard as I can."
Toney also said people will notice a difference in how quickly he will be able to run the floor, which is a must in the Phoenix Suns-style offense Penders runs.
"I’ve got more speed," Toney said. "No limping up the court like last year. I’ll be able to run the court just like everybody else."
Smith has recovered from the foot injury and said two weeks ago that his goal was to be in game shape for Friday’s match. In that time span, he’s put in extra work to try to get back in the shape he was for the 2005-06 season, when he played an average of about 34 minutes a game.
Replacing Dunk Master Flex
In his four years at UH, Smith has had the chance to assist a few highly athletic forwards in their acts of posterization (the art of horrifically dunking on someone, immortalizing him on a picture or poster of shame and embarrassment). His first three years he had the chance to watch Ramon Dyer, who must have had at least a 40-inch vertical, throw it down on helpless defenders.
Then along came Jahmar "Dunk Master Flex" Thorpe, who epitomized the power dunker. He caught ally-oops from Smith during the 2005-06 season in addition to the occasional fast break jam. His specialty, the put-back dunk, landed him the No. 1 spot on SportsCenter’s Top 10 countdown on Jan. 11 when he caught a rose up over Memphis’ Robert Dozier to catch and throw down a put-back in the Tigers forward’s face.
Thorpe and his rim-rattling, crowd-igniting dunks have moved on and could have potentially left a posterization void for this season’s team.
Senior guard/forward Dion Dowell showed signs of posterization brilliance in his first season with the team by settling a dunk vendetta with Rice’s Patrick Britton in the two teams’ second meeting of the season.
Sophomore forward Nick Mosley even got in the mix with some nasty dunks late in the season, but now that he has two healthy knees and will see increased playing time Toney could be Houston’s Mr. Excitement.
He said there won’t be a lack of dunks, at least from him this season.
"We’ve just got to keep going to the boards. As long as we go to the boards we can get anything," Toney said. "Most of my stuff last year came off of backboard shots, where I’d just go up and get it. I’m feeling better, so basically yeah. I’m going to be booming on people this year."
Let the posterization begin.