The Cougars have not played well when traveling to bigger venues in their new conference. After lopsided losses of 39, 23 and 37 to Louisville, Memphis and Connecticut, respectively, UH is 2-6 away from Hofheinz Pavilion.
The more competitive American Athletic Conference now has five teams ranked in the top 25, which makes road victories even more important.
To earn more wins on the road, the Cougars (12-12, 4-7) have to be tougher mentally and physically, head coach James Dickey said.
“Our guys are starting to understand what’s in front of us, but that’s why we’re in a league like this,” Dickey said. “This league has the chance to get a lot of teams in the tournament, so (Selection Sunday) is a big day, and we’ve got to get better and win some games.”
The players say they feel like they can finish out the conference on a big run. They might not be used to playing in such big venues, but they are embracing the exposure. The Cougars went from playing on national television sparingly to appearing on one of the ESPN family of networks almost every game.
The Cougars know what competition is out there, but they want to take advantage of these opportunities on a bigger stage and play better in front of large audiences.
“We feel like we’re the underdogs and nobody really expects us to win any more games, but we’re just trying to play and prove them people wrong,” Thomas said.
UH has tended to play inconsistently, either starting games off well and taking its foot off the gas in the second half or stumbling out of the gate before needing a late rally to earn a win.
On the road and at home, the Cougars are looking to put two good halves together consistently, Thomas said. When they get on runs, their focus has to be to not let up on the defensive end, but when they are all on the same page, they’re a tough bunch to stop.
“When we’re clicking on all cylinders, it’s the best feeling in the world,” said sophomore guard Jherrod Stiggers.
The familiarity of their environment helps when the Cougars play at home, but on the road they are out of their element.
UH is hoping to improve on its road record in order to push for a bid to the NCAA tournament. However, with a No. 176 RPI ranking and many tough games in the rearview mirror, the Cougars will likely need to win the rest of their games to reach Big Dance.
That stretch would need to begin on Saturday, when the Cougars face No. 10 Cincinnati on the road.
“At home, we feel used to it, at how everything looks and feels, but on the road, it’s just completely different, and nobody is really on your side,” said Thomas.