Cougars keep hopes alive
After missing two clutch free throws with 14 seconds left in overtime that would have given UH a two possession lead, guard Kelvin Lewis thought he may have cost the Cougars the game.
UH held an 87-85 lead over Texas-El Paso with seven seconds remaining when Lewis was given a second chance. He took advantage of the reprieve, sinking both free throws to push the Cougar’s lead to 89-85.
This would ultimately be the final score as the Cougars kept their aspirations for an NCAA Tournament appearance alive by defeating the Miners in the quarterfinals of the Conference USA Tournament on Thursday at FedExForum in Memphis, Tenn.
The Miners were left with seven seconds on the clock to make up a four-point deficit, but Cougars forward Qa’rraan Calhoun blocked a 3-point attempt by forward Gabriel McCulley with three seconds left to wrap up UH’s 89-85 overtime victory.
Although making it to the semifinals of the conference tournament – where UH will face Associated Press No. 4 Memphis at 3 p.m. today – was the main goal of Thursday’s game, achieving revenge on a UTEP squad that eliminated the Cougars from the 2008 C-USA Tournament was another item on UH head coach Tom Pender’s agenda.
UH used a 21-4 run, capped by an uncontested dunk by guard Aubrey Coleman, to jump out to a 26-9 lead with 9:26 until the break. This prompted Miners head coach Tony Barbee to call a timeout in an attempt to wake up his team, which was playing horrific defense to that point.
UTEP guard and C-USA’s all-time leading scorer, Stefon Jackson, led the Miners on a 20-8 run that cut the Cougars’ lead to 34-29 at halftime.
Jackson, who finished with a game-high 38 points, had 11 points at halftime, but put up another 20 points in the second half to help the Miners pull even with the Cougars, 74-74, at the end of regulation. The biggest of Jackson’s buckets came when he made a jumper with 10 seconds left that forced the extra session.
The Cougars’ inability to keep UTEP off the glass during the second half allowed the Miners to stay in the game, as UH was out-rebounded 13-6 on the offensive glass.
The Cougars recovered in overtime, out-rebounding the Miners 8-5. The biggest board came when UH held an 85-82 lead with one minute remaining. Forward Nick Mosley grabbed an offensive rebound off a missed jumper by Coleman that allowed the Cougars to finish the possession with two free throws from point guard Zamal Nixon, giving the Cougars an 87-85 advantage with 51 seconds left to play.
Despite getting a huge win, the Cougars have no time to celebrate, because they will face a Memphis team that has won 59 straight games against conference opponents on its home floor. The game will be broadcasted on CBS College Sports.
If UH can pull off what no other C-USA team has done since March 2, 2006, when the Tigers fell to Alabama-Birmingham 80-74, it will square off with the winner of Tulsa and UAB at 10:30 a.m. Saturday. The title game will be broadcasted nationally on CBS.