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Thursday, April 22, 2021

Men's Basketball

‘We will be back’: Kelvin Sampson vows Final Four return after UH loss


UH head coach Kelvin Sampson embraces Quentin Grimes (24) of the Cougars after a loss to the Baylor Bears in the Final Four semifinal game of the 2021 NCAA Men's Basketball Tournament at Lucas Oil Stadium on April 03, 2021 in Indianapolis, Indiana. Kelvin Sampson thanked his players for their commitment for the season after the game. | Photo by Jamie Schwaberow/NCAA Photos via Getty Images

UH head coach Kelvin Sampson embraces Quentin Grimes (24) of the Cougars after a loss to the Baylor Bears in the Final Four semifinal game of the 2021 NCAA Men’s Basketball Tournament at Lucas Oil Stadium on April 03, 2021 in Indianapolis, Indiana. Kelvin Sampson thanked his players for their commitment for the season after the game. | Photo by Jamie Schwaberow/NCAA Photos via Getty Images

INDIANAPOLIS — Saturday’s crushing loss to the Baylor Bears in the Final Four brought a lot of emotion out of Houston inside of Lucas Oil Stadium.

In a game that got out of hand quickly, the Cougars were left in the dust and were unable to get back in the game. The finality of the season slowly hit them, and by the end of it all, the team had no choice but to let it all out. Once the sting of defeat eventually fades, however, the 2020-21 UH team will be one that is remembered for years to come.

“The people that care about our university and care about our teams, they’ll never forget this group,” UH head coach Kelvin Sampson said after the loss. “I know I won’t. I’ll remember this team for a lot of reasons. Great kids, the love they had for each other, how tight-knit the coaching staff was in supporting these kids. It was fun.”

For Sampson, the loss in the Final Four could not take away the rest of the journey the team was put through in the unusual year. In his words, the team had sacrificed a lot to uphold their commitment to the team, and for that, he was extremely thankful.

As the seconds ticked away on the game clock in Saturday’s contest, the Cougars subbed out the bulk of their starters, and slowly, one by one, they all took turns hugging Sampson on their way to the bench.

Once the final buzzer sounded, and the team reached their locker room, the emotions flowed out even more. 

“Those guys invested a lot in this,” Sampson said. “We ran into a really good team tonight. Didn’t play well and that team we played had a lot to do with it.”

Sophomore guard Marcus Sasser, who was the only UH player that had a strong performance in the first half against Baylor, held back tears during his postgame news conference.

Through short answers, the Red Oak native, at times, had to pause in order to stop from breaking down. But despite that, he was still able to reflect on the importance of this team. 

“The three seniors we had, they led us and they taught us a lot for the upcoming years for the young guys,” Sasser said. “We had a great run and just fell short this year.”

This year’s team broke barriers, Sampson said. Not only was advancing to the Final Four for the first time since 1984 a remarkable accomplishment but one that he feels needed to be done to continue to advance as a program.

“We’re getting the next step,” Sampson said. “Once we got to the Elite Eight, that’s where you want your program to be. You want it to improve, to get better. I know how difficult it is to get to a Final Four.”

From this point forward, making new progress will be a difficult challenge, but it is one that the head coach is confident can be done.

Just like when previous teams fell short, a last-second buzzer-beater against Michigan, and a Sweet Sixteen loss to Kentucky, Sampson believes this team has helped expand the standard.

“So we’ve had teams that were trailblazers and now we had a team that was groundbreakers,” Sampson said. “I’m disappointed the season is over because I don’t get to coach them anymore. But what a run, what a ride. Final Four, 28-4. Two nets. We got a lot of memories. A lot of memories.”

When UH steps on the court again for the 2021-22 season, it will be a different group that will look to make its own mark.

For those returning, the leadership from this team will stick around. Fabian White, Tramon Mark and Marcus Sasser will all likely return. Add to the mix Kiyron Powell, Jamal Shead, J’Wan Roberts, who Sampson listed off, and he believes that they will be in a position to continue making UH one of the premier college basketball programs in the country.

“We have good players coming in,” Sampson said. “And obviously, like everyone else, we’ll pick up some kids from the transfer portal as well. 

“We’ll be back,” he added. “We’ll be good again next year.”

For more on The Cougar’s coverage of UH’s run in the NCAA Tournament, click here.

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