Cougars seek win at SMU

Houston head coach Tom Penders referred to his team’s 7 p.m. matchup Saturday against Southern Methodist at Hofheinz Pavilion as the most important game of the season.

This was, of course, immediately following the Cougars’ emotional loss to the country’s No. 1 ranked team and Conference-USA leader, Memphis, Wednesday night. There was, however, a sense of truth in what Penders said.

At 18-5 with a 7-2 record in C-USA, the Cougars are in good shape heading into the final stretch of the season, but an NCAA tournament appearance is far from being clenched. Penders knows his team must not lose another C-USA game heading into the conference tournament to keep its bubble from bursting, and that means playing every game at full throttle – even SMU.

The Mustangs have an 8-14 record and is the second worst team in C-USA, ahead of Rice (3-20, 0-10 C-USA)with a standing of 2-7. The last time Houston and SMU faced each other, it didn’t bode too well for SMU head coach Matt Doherty and his team that is still being rebuilt. The Cougars scored a season-high in points in Dallas on their way to a 99-71 victory in January.

In addition to running the Mustangs out of their own gym on the offensive side of the ball, the Cougars forced SMU into 20 turnovers and had 13 steals.

If Houston plays its game Saturday like it is the most important contest of the season, SMU could find itself in a deep hole.

Since the two teams last played, the Cougars have seen an increase in offensive production from senior guard Robert McKiver, who is now averaging 21.2 points per game. The addition of DaShaun Williams to Penders’ rotation has also had an impact on the team’s defensive mentality.

The junior guard, who got the start against Memphis, has seen a significant increase in minutes and has provided the Cougars with an average of 1.6 steals and 3.6 rebounds per game.

Penders has called Williams the team’s best defensive player and the quarterback of his new defensive scheme, which involves putting pressure on the ball and confusing the offense with a series of traps and assignment switches.

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