Cougars aim to climb C-USA ladder
The Cougars return to the court this weekend knowing they let a golden opportunity to climb up the Conference USA ladder slip by in their last game.
In last Saturday’s 92-77 loss at defending C-USA champion Memphis, UH (10-9, 3-3 C-USA) went blow-for-blow with the Tigers for the first 20 minutes.
Unfortunately for the Cougars, the second half was a different story, as Memphis (14-5, 4-1) used lights-out shooting after the break to turn a tied game into a 15-point blowout.
This weekend brings yet another chance for the Cougars to stake their claim as one of the league’s upper-echelon teams, when Marshall (15-5, 4-2) pays a visit to Hofheinz Pavilion at 5 p.m., Saturday.
The Thundering Herd are riding a three-game losing streak, but have been competitive against stiff competition.
The three losses against in-state rival West Virginia, first-place UAB and Memphis, were by a combined 13 points, and UH head coach Tom Penders knows each game could have gone the other way.
“They’re a team that’s capable of winning this league,” Penders said. “I watched them play Memphis, and they had the game but just blew it at the foul line late. That’s also how they lost at West Virginia. I know that feeling, and we’ve had enough of that. They’re still a very good basketball team.”
Marshall, which was picked to finish seventh in C-USA by the Orlando Sentinel’s preseason poll, has played well above expectations and currently sits in fifth place — one game ahead of UH.
Part of the Thundering Herd’s success is a direct result of freshman forward Hassan Whiteside.
Whiteside was recently named the C-USA Rookie of the Week for the second straight week and has been establishing himself as a legitimate force inside.
Over his last three games, Whiteside averaged 17.0 points and 9.0 rebounds. The Cougars will have their hands full with him while still trying to contain the perimeter game.
“Whiteside is only a freshman, but he’s a talented freshman,” Penders said.
“He can hurt us, but they also have three very good perimeter guys. They shoot the three, and if you don’t focus on them, they can hurt you with the 3-point shot. They’ve got good balance inside-outside on the offensive end.”
The Cougars will have their own talented freshman trying to build off of one of his best performances to date.
Forward Kendrick Washington posted a career-high 11 points on 5-of-5 shooting against Memphis and will be looking to provide resistance against Marshall.
Aubrey Coleman did his usual scoring damage against Memphis, dropping in a game-high 32 points. Coleman enters this weekend as the nation’s leading scorer, averaging 25.6 points per game.
Penders knows it will take more than Coleman’s offense to carry UH in another tough league game.
“Marshall may outscore in the paint, but we’re going to have to hold our own,” Penders said. “We’re not as offensively oriented on the interior at this point as I’d like us to be, but with Kendrick and Maurice McNeil playing together, we’re doing a good job on the boards and put-backs.
“We can’t give them too many easy baskets because they like to run as well.”