Cougars overcome second-half issues for CBI win
Throughout the season, the Cougars have struggled to finish games strong after building second-half leads and have allowed opponents to grab come-from-behind victories.
The Cougars have grown accustomed to letting teams crawl their way back into games this season.
On Jan. 19, UH allowed UCF to come back from an 11-point deficit and steal a victory. The same formula followed three games later on Jan. 22 when it allowed Rice to come back from a 15-point deficit — Rice’s only Conference USA victory. Finally, Tulane erased a 19-point second-half Cougar lead at Hofheinz Pavilion on Feb. 9.
However, the Cougars didn’t let that happen Wednesday at Hofheinz in their biggest win this season, defeating Texas 73-72 in UH’s first postseason game in three years.
Head coach James Dickey said his team made big plays at big moments when it mattered most:
Senior forward Leon Gibson’s dunk, with the ensuing free-throw conversion after being fouled, gave UH a 64-62 lead with 4:55 remaining.
Sophomore forward TaShawn Thomas’ pair of free throws extended it to five with 4:08 remaining.
House’s go-ahead jumper with 17 seconds remaining.
Down 72-71 to Texas with 37 seconds remaining in the second half, UH sophomore guard Joseph Young was trapped by two Longhorns as he drove down the left baseline. Wisely, he kicked it out to freshman forward Danuel House, who calmly hit a jumper from the right elbow to put the Cougars up by one with 17 seconds remaining.
House and Dickey said the Cougars just needed to play defense.
“We had so many guys make shots. There at the end, after House put us up one, we just needed one stop,” Dickey said
UH’s defense did come up with a stop.
After a Longhorn turnover on the final possession sophomore guard Joseph Young secured the loose ball and sealed a 73-72 victory, propelling the Cougars to their first postseason victory since defeating Valparaiso five seasons ago in the same College Basketball Invitational.
Texas didn’t make it easy though.
After claiming a 33-22 lead in the first half, the home crowd saw their team’s double-digit lead turn into a six-point deficit when Texas sophomore guard Myck Kabongo put his team up 57-51 on a driving layup with 8:11 remaining.
“We got off to a terrific start,” Dickey said. “We really did a good job against their man defense and then they went to a zone, and we stood around too much. We were not as efficient against the zone from that point on.”
“We were stagnant, and we were inefficient offensively, and it was affecting our defense. We were letting Myck Kabongo drive,” Dickey said.
On Monday, Dickey said Kabango would be the main focus headed into the game because of his speed and ability to get to the rim. Kabango finished with 17 points and six assists.
House said he was proud to get a win against a well-respected program.
“I’m very happy. It was an honor to play against Texas. It’s an honor to play against Coach Rick Barnes and the talent he produces and collects at Texas,” House said.
Barnes, Texas’ head coach, has the most wins of any basketball coach in Longhorn history with 358 and has coached NBA stars, including Oklahoma City Thunder’s Kevin Durant and Portland Trailblazers’ LaMarcus Aldridge.
After the two teams’ first meeting in 13 years, Barnes and Dickey said they respect each other and would schedule to play once again in the future but with one condition.
“I have a lot of respect for James Dickey and for who he is and what he stands for. If they want to come to Austin, we’ll play them (UH). But if you ask me in a home and home, no we’re not going to do that,” Barnes said.
Dickey agreed with Barnes to play in Austin, but he wanted UH’s home crowd to witness the game as well.
“Yes, we would be receptive to that, but I’d want to play them home and home,” Dickey said. “We know they’re a big-time program, and we have great respect for Rick, and our players have great respect for Texas.”
Wednesday’s victory secured UH’s 20th win of the season — the 21st team in school history to reach that mark and the first since the 2008-09 campaign. It was also Dickey’s first postseason win in 17 seasons, a year in which his Texas Tech team was ranked No. 8 and reached the Sweet 16 in the 1996 NCAA Tournament.