Margin of error slim for Cougars during stretch run
With UH battling to secure a first-round bye in the American Athletic Conference tournament — a privilege only the top six seeds receive — head coach James Dickey said his team understands the need for a sense of urgency.
With only four games remaining after an 88-84 victory against UCF on Saturday, UH currently sits at No. 6 in the conference standings.
“We’re trying to fight for seeding, we’re trying to fight for that bye and we’re trying to fight to win every possible game we can,” Dickey said.
UH (13-14, 5-9) defeated UCF (10-15, 2-12) in a desperation game, and it was able to pull out a big win. A loss would have tied UH with Rutgers (10-17, 4-10) for seventh place in the American. The Cougars really can’t afford to lose any more games and probably need wins in the conference tournament if they want to join the conversation for Selection Sunday.
UCF is the top rebounding team in the AAC and 29th in the nation, grabbing 38.6 rebounds per game. The Cougars had numerous possessions on defense where they locked in but couldn’t capitalize on the possession with a rebound, which resulted in them being out-rebounded 39-27.
“We box out every day. We’re going to try everything. We just have to go rebound. Sometimes we have such an offensive mentality that we’re thinking, ‘Let’s go the other way,’” Dickey said. “When we’re good defensively, you have to complement your defense and confirm the possession with a defensive rebound.”
This is a concept that Houston is stressing to improve going forward. Also, the Cougars’ bench productivity, which scored 40 points against UCF, is going to be a key emphasis in the conference tournament. Their bench play was the best it has been all season, Dickey said.
The players know that without being defensively minded, they’re not going to be taken seriously in a conference that has four teams in the AP top 25.
“Defense is mainly toughness, and if you don’t play it, then you don’t have toughness and you don’t have any heart,” said sophomore guard Jherrod Stiggers.
The Cougars look forward to redeeming themselves Thursday night against the Memphis Tigers. In their last face-off against Memphis, UH was blown out 82-59.
“We are excited because they’re a good team,” said senior forward J.J. Richardson. “We are strongly confident in ourselves. We basically just have to put our boots and hard hats on and just play.”
Junior forward TaShawn Thomas is five rebounds away from history. He could be the seventh player in team history to score at least 1,300 points and have at least 800 rebounds in his collegiate career. Thomas would be in the company of Houston legends such as Hakeem Olajuwon, Elvin Hayes and Clyde Drexler.
Thomas has led the Cougars, averaging 15.9 points per game, 8.6 rebounds and 2.8 blocks per contest. Thomas is the only player in the American Athletic Conference to rank in the top seven in both points and rebounds.