Houston makes the ‘winning plays’ to outlast Cincinnati and keep pace with Tulsa
The Cougars remain at the top of the American Athletic Conference standings along with Tulsa after picking up a huge win against the Cincinnati Bearcats on Sunday afternoon at Fertitta Center.
Houston focused on cleaning up the mental mistakes and executing on “winning plays” during its idle week after suffering a one-point loss to the Tigers back on Feb. 22, and it paid dividends on Sunday afternoon.
“People think winning plays are making baskets,” said head coach Kelvin Sampson earlier in the week after practice. “No, it’s making free throws and not turning the ball over and being in the right place defensively and not fouling.”
Against the Bearcats, two huge runs helped carry the Cougars to the finish line. One was a 13-1 run to go into halftime and the other came in the second when Cincinnati had cut Houston’s lead to only five.
On Sunday, Houston also cut its turnovers to 11, which was down from the 14 against Memphis.
“Winning plays were the emphasis this week,” Hinton said. “If you look at all of our losses, they have been the difference between winning and losing.”
Back in the Feb. 1 meeting in Cincinnati, the Bearcats rallied from a double-digit deficit in the second half to win the game. When the Bearcats threatened to do the same thing on Sunday, the Cougars were able to execute better down the stretch.
“It was big for us to have composure and just make winning plays,” Hinton said.
Sasser, who finished with a team-best 21 points, continued to thrive offensively for the Cougars.
When the Bearcats were within five in the second half, Sasser lifted the Cougars, at one point scoring nine-straight points and was a key part in busting the game wide open.
“(It was) critical. We needed somebody to step up,” Sampson said. “We were getting good shots. We were getting looks. At some point, we needed to reward ourselves for what we were doing.”
Senior center Chris Harris Jr. also had a big game for Houston, finishing with 11 rebounds and four blocks.
“I always have that mindset, just crash every shot,” Harris said after the game.
With the win, the Cougars are now one game ahead of the Bearcats and enter the final week of the regular season tied with the Golden Hurricane for the best record in the AAC.
“We knew this was a game we needed to win,” Harris said. “We just came out and handled our business. That could have been the difference in our season.”