The Cougars’ recent second half performances have frustrated head coach James Dickey so much that he has lost a lot of sleep pondering ways to correct the issue.
“(I’m) trying to figure out why we could be so efficient in the first half, build up a lead, then be so inefficient in the second half,” Dickey said. “We’ve got to maintain our intensity, our energy level, our concentration for the full 40 minutes.”
In four of their seven losses, the Cougars have held a lead in the second half. Most recently, UH held a 10-point lead after the break against Rice before losing 79-69 on Wednesday. Even in a victory against UAB on Jan. 26, UH’s once 13-point lead dwindled to one with 11 seconds remaining. With five seconds remaining, the Blazers had the ball with a chance to tie the game.
The opposite happened against SMU on the road Saturday.
After trailing by 17 in the second half, the Cougars took the lead before the Mustangs forced overtime with a 3-pointer at the buzzer. UH eventually picked up its 14th victory of the season.
It was role reversal. Instead of faltering in the second half, the Cougars got better. They came out from the break and began an 18-8 run.
The Cougars found their stride on offense, shooting 69 percent from the field and hitting six 3-pointers in the second half.
A comeback victory of this magnitude has the potential to be the turning point of the season. It could be the win that galvanizes the team and pushes them to play better, or it could be a meaningless blip of a mediocre season. The Cougars will decide that on the court.
The Cougars created team T-shirts labeled M.O.D., an acronym for March of Death, in red letters emblazoned on a black background to symbolize their goal of reaching the NCAA tournament.
The squad still believes they can win the Conference USA tournament and reach the postseason, but after completing half of the C-USA schedule and having only three wins, the Cougars are disappointed with where they are.
They certainly have the talent to reach the postseason.
Between 2009-2012 UH is second only to Memphis with players who were ranked in the ESPN top 100 during their recruitment, with four. The only other C-USA school with one player in the ESPN top 100 is Marshall.
High school rankings aren’t an apples-to-apples comparison to production on the court, but teams with better recruits generally have better players and win more games.
Room for improvement
The Cougars know what they need to become a participant in March Madness. They’re working on defensive intensity in practice, an area where they have struggled. The Cougars are 10th in C-USA scoring defense.
“At practice, we’ve been going harder. If someone misses a defensive assignment, we’ll make them run on the side,” said sophomore forward TaShawn Thomas. “It’s just trying to make a reminder to be there for your defensive assignment.”
The coaches have also talked to the team about staying together and staying positive.
“We’ve got to play together and stick together; we’re going through a tough time right now,” Dickey said before the SMU victory.
Following Kobe’s lead
Redshirt sophomore guard Joseph Young, the Cougars’ leading scorer, said he’s taken direction from NBA star Kobe Bryant. The Lakers struggled so he decided to take a different role in the offense by focusing on passing the ball instead of scoring, and now, the Lakers have won five of their last six games after Bryant has averaged 7.6 assists per game.
“There are some things you have to sacrifice to be one of the best players on the team. Sometimes you have to play point guard,” Young said.
“I don’t mind passing the ball just as long as the assists are making the team better. We know what we have to do, now we just have to do it,” Young said.
If the Cougars accomplish their goals and begin playing like they did in the second half Saturday against SMU, Dickey can lay his head on the pillow more often.