Tigers size too much for Cougars

Houston had multiple chances to run away with the game in the second half, but Memphis did what it does best.’

The Tigers used their length and athleticism around the basket to choke hold the Cougars into submission, leaving Hofheinz Pavilion with a 69-60 win Wednesday.

The Cougars (18-10, 9-6 Conference USA) battled in the second half against a Memphis team that held the lead for most of the game. Guard Aubrey Coleman got the Cougars as close as they would get when he went coast to coast on an inbounds play, surprising Memphis defenders with his speed, to tie the game at 50 with 8:17 left in the game.

The Tigers began to grind away from that point, leaving the Cougars within striking distance, but closing out the game in intimidating fashion.

‘I really felt if we could have taken just a three or four-point lead, they would have had to put us at the line,’ UH head coach Tom Penders said. ‘We were making our free throws, but we couldn’t just climb that little hill. Give Memphis credit. They came right back.’

Memphis head coach John Calipari knows he had a close call Wednesday.

‘That was like a gut check game,’ Calipari said. ‘They never really went away. They had a chance to beat us the whole game, right down to the stretch.”

The Cougars trailed 37-31 at halftime after responding to an early offensive onslaught by the Tigers (27-3, 15-0 C-USA) by outscoring them 14-7 in the final 5:05 of the first half. The Cougars rode the hot hand of Kelvin Lewis during that run as the guard attacked the Tigers and scored seven points during the five-minute span.’

Coleman, who ended the night with team-highs of 19 points, 11 rebounds and four steals, cut into Memphis’ lead with a fastbreak layup with 16:37 left in the game. He pushed the ball after picking off a pass from Memphis guard Tyreke Evans and took it coast-to-coast, fighting through contact to cut Houston’s deficit to 40-37.’

Qa’rraan Calhoun tied the game up for the first time, 42-42, with a dead-on 3-point shot from the hot corner with 14:30 remaining.

Calhoun refused to let the Cougars go down without a fight, hitting another clutch shot from downtown with 9:30 left in the game to knot it up at 48. The momentum building 3-pointer was enough to force Calipari to call a timeout so his team could regroup.

‘That’s what (Calhoun) does,’ Coleman said. ‘He steps up when we ask him to step up. I told him to start shooting threes because we didn’t have anything to lose. It was good that he took those threes because they were real big. It just came down to making decisions.’

Calhoun finished the game with 15 points and seven rebounds, but appeared to make the most impact on the defensive end. This might have occurred because he had extra motivation for this game.

‘I wanted to win so bad,’ Calhoun said. ‘All this 56 game winning streak stuff, I’m tired of hearing about it. On ESPN, I heard Robert Dozier say the teams (in C-USA) are good, Alabama-Birmingham and Houston, but they can’t beat (Memphis). That just made me want to come out and win even more. I felt like everything I shot was going to fall.’

Following the lead of Calhoun and point guard Desmond Wade, the Cougars worked hard on the defensive side of the ball in the second half, making the Tigers work for every shot. They deflected passes and played the passing lanes, creating eight points off turnovers.’

Evans, who finished the first half with 17 points, had to work for each of the six points he scored in the second half.

‘We tried to play like they played,’ Calhoun said. ‘We tried to up the defensive line and cut them off. Nothing easy. No threes. They didn’t hit that many (and) neither did we.’

The Cougars will hold their last home game of the season, senior night, against Southern Methodist at 7 p.m. Saturday. Since Texas-El Paso beat UAB on Wednesday, the Miners and Cougars are tied for fourth in C-USA.’

The top four teams in C-USA receive a bye in the first round tournament, so the Cougars need to win the SMU game. They will have to win the C-USA Tournament March. 11-14 in Memphis, Tenn. to make the NCAA Tournament. ‘

‘It will be important that we beat SMU,’ Coleman said. ‘They’re going to give us their all just like everybody gives Memphis their all.’ We’ve got to look ahead (to SMU) now. We’ve got to focus on them and wipe this one away. We can’t get down on ourselves because we played great. It was just at times our shots didn’t fall.”

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