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Friday, February 23, 2018

Men's Basketball

Cougars hope to avenge devastating loss to No. 5 Cincinnati


Senior guard Rob Gray will need to have a big night against Cincinnati if the Cougars wish to upset the No. 5 Bearcats. | Richard Fletcher Jr./The Cougar

No matter who wins, an undefeated streak will be broken Thursday night when the Cougars take on the No. 5 Cincinnati Bearcats. The Bearcats are riding a 16-game winning streak while Houston has won 12 in a row at its temporary home of H&PE Arena.

A win for the Cougars would assure Houston a NCAA tournament spot, while a win for Cincinnati would help the Bearcats earn a number one seed in the tournament.

The last cat fight

Two weeks ago, Houston faced a rough loss against Cincinnati. The Cougars’ poor defense and some reckless fouling led to team to drop an 18-point lead.

Houston put Cincinnati in the bonus just 10 minutes into the half and the double bonus for the last two minutes. The Cougars had a total of 24 fouls in the game, while Cincinnati only fouled Houston 15 times.

Junior forward Breaon Brady fouled out of the game just one minute into the second half, and the team had to rely more on freshman and senior forwards Fabian White Jr. and Nura Zanna, who got into foul trouble of their own.

Houston was able to gain the lead because Cincinnati had a hard time shooting the ball, but once players got into foul trouble they could not play as aggressively.

This allowed Cincinnati’s pair of senior forwards Kyle Washington and Gary Clark to start putting up more points as they led the Bearcats’ comeback.

On the offensive side, the Cougars played well for the most part. Junior guard Corey Davis Jr. and redshirt senior forward Devin Davis led the team in scoring, while redshirt senior guard Rob Gray was quiet for most of the night, only scoring nine points.

The young duo of White Jr. and sophomore guard Armoni Brooks also scored 22 points off of the bench against Cincinnati and exposed a slight weakness in the Bearcats’ mid-range defense.

Both teams have been working on their issues over their last three games.

Working out the kinks

The Cougars have been doing a better job of keeping out of foul trouble, one of the team’s most vital goals.

Over the last three games, Houston has averaged 18 fouls per game, a bit lower than its season average of 21 per game, and committed just 14 fouls against SMU on Thursday, the team’s lowest total this season. 

UH is 12-0 this season when it commits 20 or less fouls in a game, but it is 7-5 when committing more than 20.

Gray bounced back from the loss, too, scoring 20 points against UCF and 15 against SMU, and though he only scored eight against Tulane, the Cougars did not need big numbers from him to win.

Cincinnati is also coming off of its own dominant wins. The Bearcats beat UCF 77-40 last Tuesday and SMU 76-51 on Sunday.

The Bearcats allowed SMU to score just 21 points in the first half and UCF a measly 13 in the opening half. In both games, the Bearcats took it easier in the second half and allowed their starters to rest up, but the second string barely faltered.

With Cincinnati having some of the best depth in the country, Houston bench players like Brooks, White Jr., and senior guard Wes VanBeck need to produce points and give the starters a breather.

If Gray stays on his A-game, the Cougars remain out of foul trouble, and the bench produces, then Houston will be able to take down the powerhouse Bearcats. That’s a lot of factors, but elite teams do not go down easy.

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