UH looks to tournament

Realistically, there’s no other way to put it for the Cougars: The likelihood of them making the Big Dance as an at-large team is extremely low.’

Ultimately making it to, and advancing through, the NCAA Tournament is every team’s goal. However, the Cougars would have to do what no team in Conference USA has been able to accomplish since the 2005 season, when the likes of Louisville, Cincinnati and Marquette ran amuck in league play – beat Memphis.

Houston (19-10) might not even have a case to be a legitimate National Invitational Tournament team if it cannot at least make it to the semifinals of the C-USA Tournament. That task in itself will not be an easy one. In order to reach the semifinals, where it would take on C-USA juggernaut Memphis, the Cougars must get through Texas-El Paso.’

To get to a game with UTEP, the Cougars will be faced with the task of taking out a troublesome Southern Methodist squad, which has made a reputation of playing better against Houston than its 9-20 record would indicate.’

The Cougars managed to post double-digit victories in both matchups with the Mustangs this season. The Cougars tromped the Mustangs in the season finale by a count of 89-77.

‘That’s a tough task to beat a team like that three games in a row,’ head coach Tom Penders said’They’re obviously loose and relaxed and not feeling a lot of pressure going into the next game. Hopefully our kids can feel the same way (tonight) as we played (in the season finale).’

Penders also said he faced a similar situation last season with the Miners and head coach Tony Barbee. Though last season’s UTEP team was arguably better than this year’s SMU squad, Penders drilled the point that playing a team three times during a season at the college level can be difficult.

‘Last year we lost a close game at UTEP and had to play them the next game in the C-USA Tournament,’ Penders said. ‘That’s two years in a row now. You don’t necessarily like that, but that’s what it is.”

Penders knows he will need positive contributions from big men Nick Mosley and Marcus Cousin to advance past SMU when the teams square off at 8:30 p.m. tonight at FedExForum.’

Mosley has played an integral part in Houston’s 7-3 record during its last 10 games of the season. He has come off the bench to spell Cousin or replace him due to foul trouble, and provided a quickness and shot-blocking presence that Cousin lacks at times.’

Mosley provides an athletic, lengthy spark on the defensive end. Offensively, he has a knack for lighting up a crowd with rim-rattling putbacks, but his repertoire is limited when compared to Cousin’s.’

‘Some nights, Marcus matches up with certain guys and Nick matches up with other guys,’ Penders said. ‘I know that. Now that we have confidence in Nick, I don’t feel as pressed. Now we know we’ve got Nick. I’m not going be afraid to go to the bench at all in the (C-USA) Tournament.’

Point guard Zamal Nixon, who had a career night against SMU Saturday with 21 points (shooting seven-for-nine from three-point territory) and seven assists, will be looking to keep his hot streak going tonight. He knows he will need help from teammates, such as forward Qa’rraan Calhoun and guards Kelvin Lewis and Aubrey Coleman, if Houston wants to have a chance to advance.

‘Qa’rraan put two good games together,’ Nixon said. ‘He played solid in the Memphis game. Saturday he played really well as well. It’s good that everybody is playing well going into the tournament. It’s like I said before, we just have to keep building so we can shock people in the tournament.’

If the Cougars make it past the Mustangs they will face UTEP, the tournament’s No. 4 seed, Thursday at 8:30 p.m. The two teams split the season series, but UTEP defeated Houston in their second game with the Cougars’ leading scorer, stealer and second-leading rebounder, Coleman, on the bench.’

Penders has to like his chances with his team at full strength, but Nixon knows the Cougars need to concentrate on the task at hand to keep playing.

‘We’re the five seed, so now we have to play all four nights,’ Nixon said. ‘We’re just going to have to go down there and be focused. It’s going to be tough.’

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