UH NCAA Tournament run proving the toughest team wins
SAN ANTONIO — Time and time again, Houston was counted out. But Kelvin Sampson’s Cougars could care less about what the outside world thinks of them.
“Once we come out of that locker room, we feel like supposed to be here at all times,” said UH point guard Jamal Shead. “We always feel like we’re the toughest team out there and always try to play like it.”
UH is often criticized because it doesn’t play a pretty style of basketball. The Cougars don’t shoot the ball well on the first shot or have a superstar who puts up highlight reels every night, but they make up for that with toughness and effort.
The Cougars excel at the nitty-gritty things like offensive rebounding, taking charges and sacrificing their bodies to save a ball from going out of bounds, just to name a few.
While it’s not pretty, it works as UH finds itself in the win column most nights.
“It’s not always smooth sailing,” Sampson said. “We’re not going to win a lot of beauty contests, but victories don’t come with asterisks. It’s not a beauty contest.”
UH proved it belonged among the nation’s elite teams on Thursday night against a 33-3, Pac-12 champion Arizona team. From the opening tip to the final buzzer, the Cougars never trailed against the South Region’s top seed because they did what they do best — set the tone on defense from the jump.
“I knew we were going to make them uncomfortable,” Sampson said. “That’s what we do.”
UH held Arizona to 28 percent shooting in the first half and 33.3 percent on the game, never allowing the Wildcats to get into any kind of offensive flow.
Kyler Edwards, who Sampson called the American Athletic Conference’s best defender, made life tough for Arizona’s Bennedict Mathurin, the Pac-12 Player of the Year.
Fabian White Jr. electrified the Cougar faithful with his blocked shots.
Freshman guard Ramon Walker Jr., who had to play big minutes due to Taze Moore’s foul trouble, did what he does best — bring energy off the bench by taking charges.
“They brought their game plan tonight, and their not afraid of anybody,” Sampson said.
While the defensive-first, toughest team on the court mindset might not be the most appealing to the eye, it works.
It has carried UH this far, putting the Cougars one win away from back-to-back trips to the Final Four.
“Just being together and being the toughest team pulled us through,” said UH guard Kyler Edwards.