UH ‘fighting uphill all night’ in loss to Tulsa, Kelvin Sampson says
After sophomore guard Caleb Mills hit a go-ahead midrange jumper with only six seconds left on the game clock, No. 5 Houston seemed like it was going to escape the hard-fought battle with Tulsa with a last-second victory.
Instead, Golden Hurricane senior guard Brandon Rachal got the ball in his hands and drove to the basket, right into the heart of the Cougars’ defense. He forced UH center Brison Gresham to commit a foul, which sent Rachal to the free-throw line for two game-clinching free throws.
With the game clock frozen at 0.1 seconds, the Tulsa guard swished the first one, and he got the second charity-stripe shot to bounce a bit on the rim before dropping in.
That shot gave the Golden Hurricane the final 65-64 edge as the slobberknocker of a fight between two of the AAC’s top teams from a season ago came to an end. It also stained the Cougars’ perfect start to the 2020-21 season, giving them their first loss of the campaign.
“It seems like that was the story of the night,” UH head coach Kelvin Sampson told reporters after the loss. “We just kept putting them at the foul line, and they kept making them.”
Tulsa managed to get to the free-throw line 22 times, making 18 of them.
“They won the game at the free-throw line,” Sampson said.
While the Cougars actually managed to get to the line more times, shooting 31 free throws, they were only able to hit 20 of them, leaving 11 points off the scoreboard. This was one of the factors that Sampson attributed the loss to.
It was, however, not the only one. In basketball, the saying — make or miss league — is often used. After Tuesday’s loss, it can be applied to the Cougars almost perfectly.
On top of the missed free throws, UH shot only 35.7 percent from the field (20-56), including just 4-21 from the 3-point line for an abysmal 19 percent.
In addition, all three of the Cougars’ leading guards in Quentin Grimes, Marcus Sasser and Mills struggled to get it going throughout the night. They combined to shoot 12-40 from the field, which included only 4-18 from the 3-point line.
“It just felt like we were fighting uphill all night,” Sampson said. “We got off to a decent start, but the lead we had early in the game could have been far greater had we made open shots.”
After UH managed to hold its previous three opponents to 55 points or less, Tulsa scored 65 in its upset win and gave the Cougars a problem all night long after falling into an early 15-4 hole to start the game.
Sampson said after the game that the Golden Hurricane’s change to a five-guard lineup is what gave the Cougars the most problems.
That lineup, Sampson said, did not allow for UH to play its big men. Because Tulsa was spreading the court and beating the Cougars on the dribble, it forced the fifth-ranked school in the nation to also go small. That took away the team’s biggest strength — rebounding.
“These kids are human beings,” Sampson said. “They are not going to be great every night. They are not going to win every game.”
The Cougars now get four days off until they finish up a series of three straight road games in Dallas. They will take on the SMU Mustangs.
UH played four games in a stretch of nine days following the 15-day layoff in between contests due to COVID-19 issues.
“We need some practice time with our small lineup,” Sampson said. “We need practice time with some different things, and maybe get our kids some little rest.”