Houston finally takes down Tigers
Aubrey Coleman eyed the basket and streaked down the court, knowing a dunk would send the raucous crowd of 4,063 at Hofheinz Pavilion into a frenzy.
Turns out a finger-roll layup works just as well.
Coleman’s finesse finish after a perfectly timed steal gave the Cougars a 72-51 lead over Memphis with 8:29 remaining in the second half — an advantage they didn’t relinquish.
When it was all said and done, UH came away with a hard-fought 92-75 win. The victory ended UH’s 11-game losing streak against Memphis, which dates back to Feb. 5, 2005, and its two-game losing streak against conference opponents.
Coleman, who finished with a game-high 34 points on 11-of-19 shooting, said his last-second hesitation and old-school bucket was not for style points. Instead, it was the result of a lingering thigh contusion suffered in the previous game against UAB.
“My leg wouldn’t let me (dunk it),” Coleman said. “It said, ‘No, just lay it up.’ So that’s what I did.”
While Coleman’s leg may have been tight, he and his teammates were anything but that at the beginning of Wednesday’s contest. The Cougars (14-13, 6-7 Conference USA) used fluid movement and crisp passes to build a 15-4 lead six minutes into the game.
The Tigers’ Doneal Mack tried to stop the bleeding with a 3-pointer, but UH immediately responded with a 10-2 run.
The Cougars stretched their lead to 29-12 with 6:55 left before halftime, but Memphis (20-8, 10-3) stormed back with a 10-4 run to draw to 33-22 with 3:29 remaining.
By halftime, UH held a 43-28 lead.
Head coach Tom Penders said he was proud of how his team maintained a balance of loose play on offense and focus on defense.
“Just before the game, I had a feeling in the locker room of how loose and yet focused they seemed to be,” Penders said. “We had a good combination of relaxation on offense, and we did a great job of (playing with) intensity on defense.”
The Cougars needed that extra intensity, as Coleman wasn’t the only player nursing an injury. Penders discovered Tuesday he would be without reserve guard Zamal Nixon (mononucleosis) and possibly Maurice McNeil (fractured nose).
McNeil did enough lobbying to crack the starting lineup, finishing with 11 points and six rebounds.
Washington more than made up for McNeil’s limited minutes (16), finishing with a career-high 16 points and game-highs of nine rebounds and three blocks.
In the second half, UH never let its lead sink below 12 points, cruising to a dominating victory that Penders hopes will propel the Cougars to a strong finish to the season.
“I told the kids, ‘This is the last time we see .500,’” Penders said. “We’re going to win these last (games) and go into that tournament on a roll. That’s how I want them thinking, and that’s how I always think.”
UH returns to the court when it travels to Dallas to take on SMU at 7 p.m. Saturday.