Men's Basketball Sports

As March nears, UH men’s basketball struggles to find rhythm

UH men's basketball senior forward Brison Gresham battles with Tulsa senior center Emmanuel Ugboh in a game on Jan. 20 at Fertitta Center. | Andy Yanez/The Cougar

UH men’s basketball senior forward Brison Gresham battles with Tulsa senior center Emmanuel Ugboh in a game on Jan. 20 at Fertitta Center. | Andy Yanez/The Cougar

The Houston men’s basketball team is only three weeks away from the start of the American Athletic Conference Tournament and Selection Sunday. 

Three weeks away from reaching the point where a year ago, life across the country and the entire world, changed. And yet, head coach Kelvin Sampson feels that his team is anywhere but three weeks away.

“For some reason, I feel like we’re in December with our team,” Sampson told reporters, in what likely was his longest availability with reporters on Friday morning through Zoom. 

His team played its 20th game on Thursday in the loss to Wichita State. A benchmark that was reached in late January a season ago. The biggest obstacle for the Cougars, however, has been trying to find a rhythm.

Prior to the conference game against the Shockers, UH last played on Feb. 10 against South Florida, and before that, played on Feb. 3 against East Carolina. In between those meetings was a contest with Our Lady of the Lake, an NAIA school, in which none of UH’s starters played against. 

When the Cougars step on the court on Sunday at Fertitta Center, it will be their third conference game in 18 days, and the first home conference game since Jan. 31, which has had a big impact on the team down the final stretch of the regular season.

“The only way we’re going to get better as a team this time of year is you have to play games and right now it is so sporadic,” Sampson said. “It’s one game a week. You don’t know if the next game is going to get played until two days before.”

The 2020-21 season in college basketball has been one constant battle against COVID-19 and has had changes left and right from a scheduling standpoint. The Cougars have gotten a first-hand taste of it in the past few days.

After UH defeated USF last Wednesday, it was scheduled to host both Memphis and East Carolina on Sunday and Wednesday respectively, but those games were postponed because both programs had virus issues.

The UH men’s basketball team quickly scrambled to move up its game against the Shockers, when a winter storm that battered the entire state of Texas threw an extra obstacle in the scheduling puzzle. Not only in Thursday’s game but also Sunday’s against Cincinnati.

UH was 16 hours away from having to abandon its plan and spend extra days in Wichita, Kansas, and then fly straight to Cincinnati to play the Bearcats on the road due to the ongoing outages and water shortages across the city of Houston, Sampson said.

A reminder that this season’s schedule is about as reliable as ERCOT.

And as the days run out on the unique 2020-21 season, Sampson’s main wishlist is to play as many games as possible. He added that UH will look to schedule a game in between the contest against Cincinnati and next Sunday’s game against USF.

“You can’t play three times in 20 days and think you are in a rhythm,” Sampson said. “We need that. Practice is practice this time of year. You always get something from practice, but this time of year, practices in five straight days isn’t fun for anybody.”

From now until March 11, when the AAC Tournament is scheduled to start, the Cougars have only three games left on the schedule, but also have additional games against Memphis (home), Cincinnati (away) and ECU (home) that were postponed and could get plugged in as well. Whether they all do is left to be seen. 

In that time, the UH men’s basketball team will look to get players like freshman Tramon Mark and sophomore guard Marcus Sasser out of their respective shooting slumps as well as find the role of the returning senior forward Fabian White Jr, who played in his first game this season against Wichita State.

“That’s where we need games, man,” Sampson said. “We knew Fabian was coming back, it was just a matter of when … but he can’t go eight days without playing a game. We can’t. We need to have a game this week. We need to play Thursday, Sunday, Wednesday, Saturday. We all do.”

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