No. 11 UH ‘came out ready to play’ in win over UCF
Just 155 seconds into the game on Sunday afternoon, the Houston men’s basketball team had forced UCF to start ringing all of its alarms.
It was only three possessions in and the Cougars had already built up a nine-point lead.
Senior guard DeJon Jarreau started the contest off with a 3-pointer. Then sophomore guard Marcus Sasser followed with one of his own, and lastly, junior guard Quentin Grimes came in and hit another one. Immediately, Knights coach Johnny Dawkins called a 30-second timeout.
“It’s hard to play better,” UH head coach Kelvin Sampson said. “You’re not going to play better than that. I thought our kids came out ready to play. (They) were excited to play.”
For the Cougars (11-1, 6-1 American Athletic Conference), the blazing start was only the beginning. UH rode its momentum and quickly had UCF on the verge of a knockout in the first half.
Another Jarreau 3-pointer made UH’s lead 12-0 before UCF (3-5, 1-4 AAC) finally got on the board with a layup from sophomore guard Dre Fuller Jr.
The Cougars, however, kept their onslaught going, and by the three-minute mark of the first half, it had ballooned the lead up to 29, which was the largest lead of the contest.
The UCF players looked dejected on the court as 11th-ranked UH put on an exhibition at its expense. Heading into halftime, the Cougars led 45-19.
“We’ve played some great teams this year and none have been even better than Houston (to be) quite frank,” Dawkins told reporters after the game. “The way they play the game. They’re so connected. They play together. They play with physicality for 40 minutes. I respect the way they play. They’re the crème of the league.”
In the second half, the Cougars’ shooting took a tumble, and the dominant showing let up a bit, but it is something that Sampson is not paying much attention to. UH still won 75-58.
“We didn’t play as good as we did in the first half,” Sampson said. “(But when) we get this deep in the season, we’re 6-1 in the league, you just move forward. … I don’t overreact to that. If those are the type of questions I have to answer after the game, we’re doing pretty good.”
On the floor, the Cougars were led by Grimes, who finished with a game-best 18 points, and senior forward Justin Gorham, who finished with 15 points and nine rebounds.
After the game, both Gorham and Jarreau spoke to reporters and talked about the challenges that arise from playing out from ahead.
“Your intensity goes down,” Jarreau said. “We’re human. It’s not the same energy that you would put into it if the game was close and that is something that we got to work on. … Keeping it and maintaining the same energy, the same intensity that helped us get the lead.”
Despite arguably the best performance of the season, not all was perfect for the Cougars. Particularly for Sasser, who only scored eight points and made one 3-pointer, and Grimes, who missed four free throws in the win.
Minutes after the game ended, both Grimes and Sasser went back onto the court of the Fertitta Center to shoot around.
“That’s really nothing for (Grimes and Sasser),” Jarreau said. “I know even if one of them has a good game, they’re in the gym after the game shooting. This was a bad night for them.”
Looking forward, the Cougars will have a few days off until they return to action on Wednesday to take on the only team that has beaten them this season, Tulsa.
For UH, it will continue to fall back on its identity.
“We try to rely on our defensive rebounding,” Jarreau said. “When our shots are falling, it’s just a matter of time (until) we’ll go up on a team because we focus on defending and rebounding even if our (shot) is not falling.”