The Cougars broke their routine and skipped practice the night before their rematch with Memphis. It had nothing to do with superstition, their performance against Tulane Saturday, or a good showing in Sunday’s walkthrough.
No, Houston head coach Tom Penders and his team spent four and a half hours at Bush Intercontinental Airport before they were finally able to load their flight and head to Memphis for their 8 p.m. game against the Tigers, slated to air tonight on College Sports Television.
The Cougars didn’t get off their plane in Memphis until about 8:30 p.m. This was due to the combination of a weather delay and having to relocate the team’s luggage.
Penders said he hopes the irregular and unfortunate events do not throw off any rhythm his squad had going into its all-important matchup with the nation’s Associated Press No. 1 ranked team and Conference USA’s top dog.
"In all my years as a coach, I’ve never been able to not practice the night before a game," Penders said.
The 34-year head coach chuckled at the suggestion that skipping a practice before facing the No. 1 team in the country might in some way benefit his team, by giving them fresh legs and therefore leading to one of their best shooting performances in recent memory. He said it would take a near flawless performance by his team to pull off the upset in the FedEx Forum, where the Tigers have won 46 consecutive contests.
"They’re a very good team," Penders said. "We have to hope to beat them to the spots and turn the ball over and be good on offense. We’re going to have to almost play perfect and do a lot of things right. It all comes down to (the fact that) they’re a great team."
Houston forced Memphis into 22 turnovers and got 11 steals in its first crack at the Tigers, Jan. 30 in Hofheinz Pavilion. Penders chose to press, trap and switch with his defense for a majority of the game making it his team’s lifeline. He said to expect to see that style again, but he’s going to do his best to make sure Memphis head coach John Calipari has a hard time adjusting.
"We’re going to trap in certain areas and maybe switch to a zone style defense in certain areas, and then we’ll play them in straight up man-to-man." Penders said. "We’re going to try to throw a lot of different things at them. We trapped them a lot the first game, and that kept us in the game. We turned them over."
Penders added he would need an all-around great night on the boards for his team to take control of the game, and the Cougars are going to need to shoot more than 35 percent from the floor, their percentage in their first game against the Tigers, if they plan to stay competitive.
"We’re going to need to have our best shooting game and hope they have their worst shooting game," Penders said. "Then our defense is going to have to get us the ball."