UH needs big run to make Big Dance
After Saturday’s loss at Tulane, the Cougars begin the Conference USA Championship Tournament today for a first-round matchup with East Carolina in Tulsa, Okla.
Head coach Tom Penders hopes his team has a short memory and takes advantage of having an extra-big body at his disposal.
“Unfortunately, we haven’t gone on a big winning streak, but we normally bounce back from losses — bounce back strong,” Penders said. “Our team will be at full strength with the return of Maurice McNeil.”
McNeil will return to the lineup after missing the last two games due to a family illness in New York.
“He’s our leading rebounder, he’s a capable inside scorer and defender, and without him, I don’t think we could have possibly beaten Memphis,” Penders said. “He’s had some outstanding games this year, and he complements Kendrick Washington.”
UH (15-15, 7-9 C-USA) finished the regular season with four losses in its last six games and drew the No. 7 seed in the tournament. ECU (10-20, 4-12), meanwhile, only won consecutive games once this season and enters with the No. 10 seed.
In their only meeting this season, UH defeated ECU 74-55 in Greenville, N.C. on Jan. 16. Senior guard Aubrey Coleman, the NCAA’s scoring leader, led the Cougars with 25 points and added 11 rebounds in the win. McNeill recorded a double-double with 11 points and 15 rebounds.
Even with that success, Penders knows today will present a different challenge.
“That doesn’t mean anything to me, and it shouldn’t to the players because tournament play is all together a different thing,” Penders said. “You’re on a neutral floor, and if you don’t respect your opponent, you get beat.”
Despite experiencing a horrendous season, the Pirates have three players scoring in double figures. Point guard Brock Young leads them in scoring at 15.3 points per game, while forwards Darrius Morrow and Jamar Abrams put up 12.3 and 11.3 points per game, respectively.
“We’ll play like we did the last game. I think we really focused hard on keeping men in front of us (and) making it difficult on their guards to score,” Penders said. “That was our main focus in the first game, and hopefully we can do that again.”
UH and ECU both know that their only shot at making the NCAA Tournament is to go 4-0 this week.
“If you’re a competitor and you know that the only chance is to win out, I expect the players to be highly motivated,” Penders said. “Really, anybody can beat anybody in this league. We have beaten three out of the top four teams.”