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Friday, April 23, 2021

Sports

Cougars’ performance comes up short


Moral victories are rarely of any use to a hapless underdog, but these are all that remain for the UH men’s basketball team in the wake of Saturday’s 96-90 overtime loss to Arizona.

The Cougars (12-5, 3-1 Conference USA) took the Wildcats to the brink, despite playing the final 10 minutes of regulation without dynamic junior guard Aubrey Coleman who was ejected for a controversial flagrant foul on Arizona junior forward Chase Budinger. They played outstanding defense, forcing Arizona (12-8, 2-5 Pacific 10) into 24 turnovers, and took several charges. They also led by 10 points with 52 seconds remaining.

Given the circumstances of losing one of their stars and playing in front of a hostile crowd of 13,802 at the McKale Center in Tucson, Ariz., the Cougars performed quite well against a big-name opponent on the road.

Just not as well as needed in the final 52 seconds of regulation and the ensuing overtime period. That’s why this loss will hurt more than any other.

UH could have – and should have – beaten Arizona. Having Coleman on the floor in the closing seconds would have helped, but his absence had little to do with Arizona being able to pull off its Houdini act (21-5 run to end the game).

Game-changing mistakes

The Cougars’ improbable collapse can be attributed in no small part to a turnover, two missed free throws and questionable defensive strategy in the closing seconds of regulation. Unfortunately for junior guard Kelvin Lewis (career-high 35 points), he’s on the hook for the turnover and missed free throws.

Arizona junior guard Nic Wise (23 points) drove in for a layup to reduce the Cougars’ lead to 88-83 with 27 seconds remaining. The Cougars struggled to get the ball inbounds on the ensuing play, losing it out of bounds with Lewis being charged with the turnover.

Lewis’ miscue allowed Wildcats junior forward Jordan Hill (30 points, 18 rebounds) to hit a quick jumper that reduced UH’s lead to 88-85 with 22 seconds left. The Cougars managed to inbound the ball to Lewis, who was fouled immediately with 19 seconds remaining. Lewis clanked both free throws.

Wise sprinted straight up the court and connected on a three-pointer that tied the game at 88 with 10 seconds left. The Cougars got off two shots before time expired, but neither came close to going in, much like every shot they took in the overtime period.

The Cougars shot 0-for-10 in overtime, getting their only two points on free throws by Lewis. Their shot selection was limited mostly to long-range jumpers, which was odd considering that they trailed by only three for much of the period.

Back to the drawing board

Any other time, the Cougars and head coach Tom Penders probably would have been thrilled with the effort they showed on the road against Arizona. After all, they were run off the court the last time they played in Tucson (87-62 loss in 2006).

Not this time. This year’s Arizona team is not as good as the one the Cougars faced in 2006. The Wildcats had lost three consecutive games, and five of their last seven, heading into Saturday’s contest. They were desperate for a win.

So were the Cougars, who could have used the boost in Ratings Percentage Index that would have come with the win. Plus, a win would have brought added confidence heading into their remaining Conference USA schedule, which includes a rematch against Texas-El Paso on Wednesday and big meetings with Memphis and Tulsa.

Instead, the Cougars are left with only moral victories, which are mostly worthless to a mid-major program seeing its hopes for an NCAA Tournament appearance fading away.


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