UH embraces exposure of American Athletic Conference
With a stronger conference comes tougher competition, and the Cougars looking to make their mark with the increased opportunities the American Athletic Conference provides.
UH (10-6, 2-1) had its only conference loss after dropping a nail-biter against Cincinnati at Hofheinz Pavilion. Preceding the Jan. 7 loss were wins against Connecticut and South Florida for a 2-0 start to AAC play.
After a losing record in Conference USA play last year, head coach James Dickey said the Cougars are excited about the brighter lights of the American. The AAC is a talented league in which eight of the 10 teams have reached the final four in its history.
The Cougars hope to get their third conference win against defending national champion Louisville on Thursday.
“Our guys are so excited about the American and the exposure that it brings because of the great media and national television,” Dickey said. “That’s why these guys come to school — to play great competition and to play on national TV.”
In conference play, every possession is magnified, and teams can’t take any possessions off, Dickey said.
“The coaches warned us before we even started the conference play, but I think everybody’s been rising to the occasion when we’ve been playing the big teams and seeing ourselves on TV,” said junior forward TaShawn Thomas. “Everybody’s just been staying humble, and not really getting too hyped about it.”
Playing the tougher competition on a national stage is a great opportunity for UH, and for the team getting national television exposure on ESPN, which helps bring fans out.
“That’s one thing we’re working toward and trying to get them in the habit of coming back to Hofheinz,” Dickey said. “We’ve got to do our jobs and win games, but we certainly have to preserve the history and ambience of Hofheinz.”
However, injuries have limited what UH has been able to do early in the conference season. The Cougars have lost four key contributors since the end of November: sophomore forward Danuel House, senior forward J.J. Richardson, sophomore guard L.J. Rose and senior guard Tione Womack.
Injuries have caused constant changes in the team’s rotation and have made it difficult to play consistently. Dickey said the injuries will help create more balance and a nine-man rotation. Despite the injuries, freshman forward Danrad Knowles said the team is now closer.
“It gives us a lot of momentum. I think it really makes us bond more as a team, especially because we’ve got L.J (Rose) and House coming back,” said Knowles, who has averaged 11.3 points per game with eight rebounds.
The team believes playing good defense every night will carry it to success in conference play.
“Defense has been our biggest point ever since injuries came into play,” Thomas said. “We’ve just been focusing on defense and playing it as a team instead of individual defense, so I think that’s going to help us out a lot.”