For UH, conference tournament provides opportunity to reach NCAA goals
Despite having its four-game winning streak snapped against UCF in a 21-point decision, UH seems to finally have the chemistry it needs at an important time.
The Cougars will have to continue their level of play to upset No. 25 SMU in the second round of the American Athletic Conference tournament on Thursday. UH likely needs to win the conference tournament and its automatic bid to earn a berth in the NCAA tournament.
“Our guys are excited about the way we’ve been playing,” said head coach James Dickey.
Dickey said he told his team that both games played against SMU were within a few points, and it was the little things that caused them to lose, such as allowing points off offensive rebounds and turnovers.
The little things lead to losses in one of the most competitive conferences in college basketball — five teams rank in the top 25.
Dickey said the court size is not going to change but the atmosphere certainly will, and they have to remember that the goal of winning remains the same height.
“Paint touches is going to be the best way for us to win, whether it be driving it in and pitching or feeding the ball to (junior forward) TaShawn (Thomas) and playing the game inside out,” Dickey said.
The Cougars (16-15, 7-10) are led by Thomas, who is averaging 15.5 points and 8 rebounds per game and ranks second in the conference in block per game with 2.6.
Thomas was just named to the American Athletic Conference’s second team. Though he earned other accolades, such as becoming only the fourth player in school history to score at least 1300 points, grab 800 rebounds and swat away at least 200 shots, he’ll need help from teammates who have recently stepped up.
Sophomore guards Danuel House and L.J. Rose’s offensive production has increasingly improved since coming back from injuries. House contributes 13.8 points and 5.0 rebounds per game, while Rose leads the conference in assists per game with 5.6, and averages 8.8 points per game.
SMU (23-8, 12-6) is built for the present and future and is led by sophomore guard Nic Moore, who averages 13.9 points per game and 4.7 assists, and sophomore forward Markus Kennedy, who contributes 12.0 points per game.
Senior guard Nick Russell gives SMU’s backcourt the experience it needs and contributes in all assets on the court, averaging 9.6 points, 3.3 rebounds and 3.3 assists per game.
Despite the Mustangs’ talent, the Cougars feel confident going into the FedExForum in Memphis to play in-state rival SMU in their first matchup of the conference tournament, Thomas said.
The seniors on the team will be playing every game as if it were their last. Brandon Morris, J.J. Richardson, Tione Womack and Lawrence Paye are the remaining seniors.
“I want them to leave on a good run and on a bang,” Thomas said.