Senior guard Robert "Fluff" McKiver led San Jacinto College to the NJCAA National Tournament in 2006, but he and the Cougars want to reach the big dance this year.
"That’s what I think about all day," McKiver said. "That’s the mindset of the whole team, but I think my job as a leader is to make that the mindset of my team."
As a senior, he knows it’s his last chance to get to the NCAA Tournament.
"I definitely play with that urgency," he said. "It changed a lot because I was thinking,… ‘Fluff, you’ve only got a couple more games here.’ It motivated me to go out and play hard and just show the fans how much I appreciate them," he said.
McKiver showed Cougar fans plenty against Southern Miss on Feb. 27. He put up 52 points, the third-highest point total in UH history, and shot 50 percent from the field and made seven 3-pointers in Houston’s 95-67 win.
"I’m still in awe of it. Maybe when I get 30 or 40, I’ll look back on it, but I’m still really surprised I did it. It’s kind of like living in a different world. I think it felt so great because my coaches and my teammates were so happy for me. That’s what made it even more the merrier."
He said the team is close-knit because everyone is focused on reaching the NCAA Tournament.
"I think that’s the difference in this year’s team and last year’s team: everybody just wants to win and everybody’s there for each other and we’re just trying to make this run," he said.
McKiver is also motivated to play to his full potential by UH head coach Tom Penders.
"Coach has been so hard on me and it’s helped me so much as a player. He’s never let me get complacent, and I think that’s a big reason why I had so much success.
"If coach Penders never gave me an opportunity to play here, I mean, where would I be right now? I always tell him thanks for the second chance."
McKiver was able to repay his coach by scoring 31 points against Central Florida, helping Penders get his 600th win in February.
"It was great to get that win," McKiver said.
Penders was one of the reasons McKiver came to Houston in the first place.
"First my mom went to practice, and she’s like, ‘That’s a good team, I tell you, that’ll be your style.’ So then I went to practice and I just fell in love with the way coach Penders lets us guards play.
"When I was younger, like in seventh grade, I was like 6-1, 6 ft., and I never really had another growth spurt, but they always tried to put me down low because I was taller than some of the kids, but I was always like, ‘Nah, I’m a guard.’"
The Cougars finished the regular season with a 22-8 record and only five Conference-USA losses. However, McKiver’s ultimate goal is still to reach the NCAA Tournament.
"We’ve just got to go out there and lay it all out on the line for the last however many games we have," he said. "I know it’s simple, but that’s really our mindset."