Cougars transition to new era at Hofheinz
Head coach James Dickey likes lists — numbering off objectives, postives from games, negatives and goals for the next game.
Dickey said that there were two areas that UH needed to improve in for its season opener against Grambling State — defense and turnovers.
The Cougars came through in their 88-42 win over the Tigers at Hofheinz Pavilion on Saturday, turning the ball over just seven times and holding the Tigers to a 26-percent mark from the field, while getting up and down the court with an up-tempo and aggressive style on both ends of the floor.
The Cougars played the passing lanes well and created 37 points off of 27 Tiger turnovers.
Freshman forward TaShawn Thomas impressed in his debut, embodying that up-tempo, aggressive style with three blocks, three steals while also showing an impressive handle, leading several Cougar fastbreaks, totaling five assists.
“For a guy that’s 6’8-plus, he handles the ball pretty well,” Dickey said. “When he touches it a lot of good things happen.
“Did I know he could handle it to this degree against this level of talent? Maybe not that much. But we’ve worked with him with what we call ‘bust out.’ When he gets a rebound, not to give it up, just bring it up because he makes good decisions.”
Thomas also added 13 points and eight rebounds.
Redshirt freshman Joseph Young led the Cougars in scoring with 18 points on 5-11 shooting, while also putting in two threes and handing out seven assists against two turnovers.
Despite the impressive win for UH, there was one item missing from Dickey’s pregame list.
“I should’ve added free throws to that,” Dickey said.
For what was otherwise a very complete performance from the Cougars, they converted on just 15-of-28 from the free throw line.
Young shot 6-of-7 from the line, but Thomas only made 5-of-10. Junior guard Jonathan Simmons was 2-of-7.
“It’s about two things in my opinion with free throws,” Dickey said. “It’s about routine and mental toughness. You’ve got to be strong mentally to make those free throws. We’ve got to get better there.”
Despite their stuggles from the line, the Cougars shot 50 percent from the field and knocked down 7-of-17 three-point attempts with senior guard Darian Thibodeux leading the way with the three.
Thibodeaux’s energy and defense were also imperative in the Cougars’ win, helping hold the Tigers’ starting guards to 5-of-17 shooting.
“I’m the Energizer bunny on the team,” Thibodeaux said. “I get everybody going.”
The Cougars also received strong contributions from their bench with sophmore forward Mikhail McLean, freshman point guard J.J. Thompson and junior forward Kirk Van Slyke combining to score 21 points.
Van Slyke looked like a different player after an inconsistent season last year.
“He’s taken a better approach,” Thibodeaux said. “I wouldn’t say a more serious approach, but it’s more personal this year. He’s gotten bigger and stronger, and everyday we push him to get better under the basket and do a lot of stuff and he’s just really bought in.”
Van Slyke led UH with nine rebounds.
“He’s a big piece to the puzzle,” Dickey said.
The Cougars jump back into action against Utah Valley at 7 p.m. today at Hofheinz Pavilion, hoping to start 2-0 for a second straight season.
“I’m ready to go to get it going,” Thibodeaux said. “I’m ready to go to sleep, wake up and play.”