UH locks in after Sweet 16 win over Syracuse
INDIANAPOLIS – The talk of the week heading into Saturday’s matchup between Houston and Syracuse was all about the Orange’s 2-3 zone and how the Cougars could overcome it.
Not much was mentioned of UH’s defense, which stood towards the top five of the nation throughout most of the season. For head coach Kelvin Sampson, it was unnecessary noise. For the Cougars, it’s the way it has always been.
“We’re not much of a storyline,” Sampson told reporters after the game. “We’re Houston. They’re Syracuse … We played really good defense, too, and just went about our business … At the end of the day, it’s a competition. You’re trying to get your kids to compete.”
Behind the closed doors of the NCAA’s bubble in Indianapolis, however, the Cougars were lasered in on the Orange. Not just their signature defense, but also on how to contain Buddy Boeheim and the rest of the Syracuse offense.
Entering Saturday’s Sweet Sixteen matchup, Boeheim had hit 13 3-point baskets in the first two rounds of the tournament combined.
The Cougars knew that in order to advance to the Elite Eight for the first time since the Phi Slama Jama days, they would need to take away Syracuse’s offensive firepower.
A lot of the scouting burden went to assistant coach Kellen Sampson, who was in charge of breaking down Syracuse’s offense and personnel.
“We just talked all week about five people guarding the ball,” Sampson said. “It’s not one person or two people. It’s five. Five people had to be in the right spot. And I thought for the most part we were.
“You’re not going to shut them out. But holding that team to 28, what did they shoot from the floor? Wow, I didn’t realize they shot 28 percent. And holding them to five 3s, 5-for-23, that’s tremendous, tremendous effort on our kids’ part.”
For the Cougars, their execution, and really, control throughout most of the game stems from the confidence in themselves to play like they have all season the difference is that they were doing it with much fewer eyeballs in the American Athletic Conference.
Now on a grander stage, UH hasn’t changed the ways it has done things.
“We trust in ourselves,” senior guard DeJon Jarreau said. “We trust in the system that our coaches have built here and just going by the system. Once you do that, everything else will happen for itself. Just being in the right position, following the game plan.”
The Cougars now find themselves one game away from reaching the Final Four, an achievement that just six years ago seemed like a far-fetched dream.
For now UH will celebrate, but it has its sights set on a bigger goal.
“We’re very happy for (the win),” Jarreau said. “But we have a business to accomplish. We have a mission to accomplish. And we’re just trying to do our best to try to go as far as we can … We know we’re making history. And like I’ve been saying, we are just approaching it from a business standpoint, just going out, executing our game plan and playing to the great culture that we have here.”
For more on The Cougar’s coverage of UH’s run in the NCAA Tournament, click here.