With only two players on the roster with any playoff experience, the rest of the Cougars said they will embrace the opportunity to continue their season against Texas on Wednesday night at Hofheinz Pavilion.
After UH was knocked out of the Conference USA tournament, the Cougars were invited to play in the College Basketball Invitational. The CBI is a 16-team single-elimination tournament until the Championship Series, when the tournament becomes a best-of-three series.
Despite sitting out due to a foot injury, junior forward J.J. Richardson — who played his previous two years at Pittsburgh, where they were ranked as high as No. 1 in the country — provided advice to his teammates and said there is a whole new atmosphere when the playoffs start.
“I told them that playing in the postseason versus the regular season is completely different. Everybody comes to play because it’s a win or go home,” Richardson said. “Texas is going to be scratching and clawing for that position and will try to get this win just like we are.”
When senior forward Leon Gibson helped his team reach the National Junior Collegiate Athletic Association Final Four as a freshman during the 2009-10 season, he said he learned valuable lessons from his more-experienced teammates. Gibson passed the same lessons to his younger teammates so they can be more prepared and focused when the CBI starts.
“When I was a freshman, watching the upperclassmen play made me realize it’s a different ball game,” Gibson said. “When we got to the postseason, we got more focused and humble to be in the moment.”
The Cougars have shown their youth and immaturity in the second halves of close contests, as they have lost games in which they had leads with fewer than three minutes to play. The team finished the season strong, though, as they won their last four before falling in the conference tournament.
UH’s top four scorers are all freshmen and sophomores. Freshman forward Danuel House said playing in these types of games will only make their team better in the future.
“It’s very important because it’ll teach us how to maintain a lead when we get one. It’ll teach us how to control the tempo of the game and have more patience,” House said. “We’re young right now and anxious to get that feeling to win, and there’s only one player on our team that knows what that feels like (in the NCAA tournament), and that’s J.J. Richardson.”
Sophomore forward TaShawn Thomas said even though they were a young team, it’s going to be important to get this type of exposure heading into the future.
“We were a young team this year and that was kind of our problem, but we were able to close out some strong wins at the end,” Thomas said. “I think going into this tournament will help us out a lot with our experience and make us more comfortable.”
Head coach James Dickey said he is happy for UH and the opportunity for his players to gain valuable playing experience after the regular season. He said his team plays best when they accomplish a trio of aspects that he has sporadically seen throughout the course of the season, and when they don’t, it’s the biggest reason they lose.
“I think we’re best when we do three things: playing with energy on the defense side, rebounding and sharing the basketball. When we do those three things, we look like a really good basketball team,” he said.
UH will tip off at 8 p.m. Wednesday at Hofheinz Pavilion.
“I expect a packed house and hope we can get Hofheinz rock and rolling like we do during our conference games,” Dickey said.