Cougars believe turnaround of up-and-down season still within reach
TaShawn Thomas has been here before.
Though the Cougars are in a slump, having lost six of their previous seven games, the junior forward has seen similar days. During his freshman season, the Cougars had two four-game losing streaks en route to a 15-15 finish.
Losing is a culture shock for underclassmen who are used to being bigger, faster and stronger than their peers in high school, but Thomas had to learn to deal — UH didn’t finish with a winning conference record during Thomas’ first two seasons.
Though teammates have always looked up to the 6-foot-8 Thomas, he hopes to use his influence and experience to help steady the ship.
“It’s kind of hard to stay positive when stuff is going bad. I’ve been kind of trying to keep the team positive,” Thomas said.
“I know it’s stressful because the young people are used to winning in high school. The fact that we’re not winning anymore is really hard on them.”
Thomas and his teammates have a chance to begin changing the status quo today when defending national champion Louisville makes its way to Hofheinz Pavilion.
The Cougars will have to overcome recent history and the emotions in the building to earn a victory against the No. 14 Cardinals. When UH traveled to KFC Yum! Center, they returned with a 39-point loss after a first-half three-point barrage put the game well out of reach early — Louisville connected on 11 shots from behind the arc before the break.
The University will also honor Hall of Fame coach Guy V. Lewis in a pregame ceremony. As the players make their way down from the locker room to the court, they’ll have to dodge members of the media conducting interviews with Lewis’ former players in the same tunnel.
But Thomas said the Cougars are worried about what happens when the two teams take the court at 8 p.m. only because the Cardinals present a tough test. Louisville ranks in the top five in scoring margin (No. 1, +20.2), turnover margin (No. 2, +6.8), steals per game (No. 5, 9.5) and total steals (No. 5, 209).
The Cardinals also feature a strong backcourt led by Wooden Award candidate and senior Russ Smith, who averages more than 18 points and almost five assists per game.
However, despite the lopsided win in the first meeting, Louisville head coach Rick Pitino said his team is not overlooking UH.
“We’ve got some tough road games ahead, and if you think that Houston is going to be an easy one, it’s not. Our team has to work to win,” he said after Louisville defeated UCF.
The Cougars said the keys to earning the win will be responding to when the Cardinals make a run and getting off to a good start.
“They hit some big shots, and we didn’t respond in a positive way,” said head coach James Dickey. “I think our team will be ready to compete, and we have a lot of confidence in our team. We’ve just got to make sure the right one shows up.”