Cougars prep for tangle with Tigers
The Cougars know the odds are against them.
Tonight they will face Memphis, which has not lost to a conference opponent in three years and holds the nation’s longest winning streak at 20 games. By the way, they’re the No. 5 team in the country, according to the Associated Press Poll.
There are a few other things the Cougars know. First, they have nothing to lose because they are expected to drop this game. Secondly, they have proven they can defend against, score on and run with the Tigers – well, at least for 22 minutes.’
Houston (18-9, 9-5 Conference USA) held a brief 44-43 lead over Memphis early in the second half when the teams first met on Jan. 31 at Fed Ex Forum in Tennessee before the Tigers went on a merciless run to pull away. Houston head coach Tom Penders hinted at the possibility that this combination could make his team a dangerous matchup for John Calipari’s Tigers when the teams tip off at 7p.m. at Hofheinz Pavilion.
‘The most dangerous fighting machine is someone who already considers himself dead,’ Penders said. ‘If you feel like, ‘Hey we’ve got nothing to lose,’ and you go out there and play hard, you never know what can happen. If we can come out and put the ball in the basket, play good defense and maybe get lucky – who knows?’
Houston marksman and top-tier defender Kelvin Lewis knows the Cougars will have to do more than play hard to take out the Tigers (26-3, 14-0 C-USA), who allow a league low 58.6 points per game and trail only the Cougars in scoring with 75.2 points per game.
‘They play extremely hard for 40 minutes. They never take a break. Their defensive intensity is real high.’ Lewis said.’Every possession they’re going to be in your face and pressing you hard.’
The Cougars’ leading scorer and premier rebounder Aubrey Coleman put up 35 points against the Tigers on Jan. 31. He, however, said Houston will need a team effort if it plans to get the upset. He also said the Cougars must stick to Penders’ game plan; the players cannot afford to be selfish.
‘At the end of the day it comes down to us playing smart,’ Coleman said. ‘Coach Penders came up with a good game plan on how we’re going to play them. Everybody just has to stick with it. When it’s time to make shots, we have to make shots.’
Penders said he did not scare his team into believing it has to play a perfect game to beat the Tigers, but he admitted the Tigers will be a tough team to knock off.
‘They don’t beat themselves,’ Penders said. ‘They’re a very gifted, athletic team. They don’t turn it over a lot. They’re a great rebounding team, an outstanding defensive team, and they’re very unselfish.’