Men's Basketball Sports

Cougars stun defending national champion UConn


The Cougars jumped into the crowd after defeating UConn on Sunday at Hofheinz Pavilion. | File photo/The Cougar

Teamwork and effort were the driving forces that propelled Houston to a much-needed win over conference rival UConn on Sunday.

The Cougars took a 12-point lead with 15:30 left in the second half after guard Jherrod Stiggers drove to the basket and delivered a slam dunk to ignite the fans in Hofheinz Pavilion as well as his teammates.

Following the dunk by Stiggers, guard LeRon Barnes, who was initially thought to be out of the game after limping off the court with a foot injury in the first, opened the gap to a 15-point lead, leading to a time out called by UConn and thoughts that Houston may have their first conference win in the bag.

Head Coach Kelvin Sampson says Barnes’ presence is a stabilizing force on his team.

“Every team needs a LeRon Barnes,” Sampson said. “Nothing flashy, glitzy or pretty about him. He’s kind of like Old Man River. He just flows along and does his job. We have some guys who tend to get a little emotional. As they become more mature they’ll be able to not get so high or too low. They’ll learn how to handle their emotions, and they will after moments like these. LeRon is like that all the time.”

The bench would be of much assistance to the Cougars today, including guard Eric Weary, who had eight rebounds in the first half, and backup point guard Cavon Baker.

“I’ve been critical of our bench this year because it’s been sporadic, but the last couple of games; Mikhail (McClean) was tremendous the last game against Rice,” Sampson said. “Sometimes you put them in there and say just don’t hurt us. Well, Chuck helped us. He was a difference maker. He made a couple threes and made some good defensive plays. I wish I could’ve played him a bit more. He probably deserved to play a little bit more, but that will give him a little motivation to work harder in practice.”

Although Houston lead by as many as 15 points and never trailed during the game, the Huskies would not let the game slip away so easily, as senior guard Ryan Boatright scored 26 points with less than eight minutes left in the second quarter, getting within three points of the Cougars near the end of regulation.

“We didn’t play great, but we played smart,” said Sampson. “(We had) a good win today, and I was happy for the guys. As the season has gone on, we have gotten better.”

The Cougars turned the ball over only once during the game, which is a record-low for Houston.

“We talk about taking care of the basketball,” said Sampson. “We’ve learned how to move the ball in the offense, who gets the ball where. We passed up the good shots for great shots.”

Point guard L.J. Rose contributed with 12 points, five assists and two steals, including clutch shots and free throws made down the stretch.

“Defensively, we’re playing hard, getting better,” said Rose. “Offensively, guys are in the right spot at the right time. We’re learning how to play with each other, learning how to stay in our lane and not try to do too much. This gives us confidence.”

The Cougars look to build on their confidence and continue their winning streak as they meet American Athletic Conference leader Tulsa at 6 p.m. on Thursday inside Hofheinz Pavilion.

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