The Cougars have run out of options when it comes down to how they make it to the NCAA Tournament. It’s either win the remainder of their conference games going into the Conference USA Tournament, or be prepared to make their third NIT appearance since head coach Tom Penders took over in 2004.
Southern Miss is one of the four teams remaining that stand between Houston and its goal of heading into the C-USA Tournament with a win count of 24 and a No. 2 seeding. The Cougars will attempt to run through the 15-11 Golden Eagles tonight in their 7 p.m. game at Hofheinz Pavilion.
Southern Miss has a 7-5 record in C-USA and is a team that Penders said could be dangerous because of their style of play and athleticism.
Cougars’ leading scorer Robert "Fluff" McKiver agrees that if Houston is not on its toes tonight, it could get caught off guard by a team that Penders said was picked to finish ahead of UH in preseason polls.
"They’re an athletic and talented team. They kind of play like we do," McKiver said, "except they don’t shoot as many threes. They play a fast-paced game and we have to be ready to defend. I think defense is the key. We’re going to have to try to stop their penetration and keep them off the boards."
McKiver said his team would particularly have to keep an eye on Golden Eagle sophomore guard Jeremy Wise, who is averaging team bests in points per game with 19 and assists with 4.2 per contest.
"Wise is one of the best players in the league and one of the best players on their team," McKiver said. "And we’ve got to defend him and slow him down."
McKiver hasn’t been doing badly of late either. The senior guard leads the Cougars with an average of 1.8 steals per game, complementing his ability to drop 30 on an opponent on any given night.
He and junior guard DaShaun Williams have been two key components in the Houston’s ability to win nine of its last 12 games dating back to January. Sophomore starting guard Kelvin Lewis said having those two on the court at the same time makes things run a lot smoother for the team.
"DaShaun has been playing like this for a long time," Lewis said. "I’m just glad he finally got the chance to show what he can do. Fluff is a proven commodity. He’s been doing this for two years strong. It’s a pleasure to come out here and play alongside those guys."