Men’s basketball looks to defense for help against Memphis
A victory tonight, no matter what the margin, would send shockwaves through the sports community; a close loss would definitely catch the attention of the NCAA Tournament Selection Committee and a blowout loss wouldn’t be a surprise to anyone but the Cougars.
To say 15-3 Houston will enter its 7 p.m. game tonight at Hofheinz Pavilion as the underdog against Memphis would be far from a revelation. Senior point guard Lanny Smith said he and his teammates have been focused since their win over Marshall and will leave it all on the floor.
"We’re coming into this like giant-killers," Smith said. "We don’t have anything to lose. We have so much to gain and nothing to lose in the game. We’re just going to come out fearless and try to kill the giant."
Smith, however, was only about 50 percent correct. They do have plenty to gain tonight – a win over the Associated Press Poll No. 1 ranked Tigers would undoubtedly catapult the team into Top 25 status, but a loss would hurt in the all-important Conference USA Tournament race for seeding.
This is a battle between the No. 1 (Memphis 5-0 C-USA) and No. 2 (Houston 4-0 C-USA) teams in the Conference and a loss could drop the Cougars into a tie for second or third depending on what Central Florida does.
With that in mind, the Cougars know they are going to have to be at the top of their game if they want to knock off a perfect 19-0 Memphis squad.
"We know that for us to have an opportunity to win, we’re going to have to bring our A-plus game," Houston head coach Tom Penders said. "Hopefully, they come with their C-plus game."
In order for the Cougars to be playing A-plus basketball, they usually have to be working on all cylinders defensively.
As of late, Houston has done its best defensively by running full-court pressure, traps and switching player assignments. Penders said that could be hard to do against a team like Memphis.
"You’ve got to be smart," he said. "You can’t be pressing and trapping all over the place and expect to rattle them. Nobody’s been able to rattle them. What you have to do is battle them. You have to go after loose balls. You’ve got to get the 50-50 rebounds and do a good job and knock down open shots."
So many of Houston’s hustle points, which include the tip-ins and loose ball dives that lead to fast breaks, have come from senior forward Tafari Toney. Toney went down in Houston’s win over Marshall Saturday night with a left ankle sprain and Penders said he’s a game-time decision.
"I wish I knew." Penders said. "I wish I knew how fast he’s going to be or if he’s going to be able to do the things he normally does, because if I had to pick an MVP of our basketball team so far in this 18-game season, it’s Tafari Toney."
Senior guard, and Houston’s leading scorer with nearly 20 points per game, Robert McKiver said he knows Toney will end up dealing with the pain and playing with the same tenacity as always.
"He’s good," McKiver said. "He’s going to be ready to go. He can bring a lot to the table. I think he’s our most important player. He does a lot of the little things – scores and rebounds. We need him a lot, but he’s definitely going to be ready though."