Men's Basketball Sports

Embracing the hate: UH not bothered by having to play Auburn in Birmingham

No one has been better on the road in the 2022-23 season than UH basketball. | Sean Thomas/Contributor

No one has been better on the road in the 2022-23 season than UH basketball. | Sean Thomas/The Cougar

BIRMINGHAM, Ala. — It’s a home game. But at the same time, it’s not.

Technically speaking, Houston, the Midwest Region’s top seed, is the home team.

In reality, Auburn, located just over 100 miles from Legacy Arena, will have the majority of the crowd behind them on Saturday night’s NCAA Tournament second-round game.

While most No. 1 seeds would rightfully be upset with these circumstances, the Cougars don’t mind the hostile environment that awaits them on Saturday night.

 In fact, they like it that way.

“This team feeds off being counted out,” said UH assistant coach Kellen Sampson. “This team lives for a challenge, maybe more so than any other team we’ve ever had.”

When asked about playing Auburn in Birmingham, UH head coach Kelvin Sampson was quick to point out that his team has thrived on the road this season.

“We’ve been pretty good on the road,” Sampson said. “Everywhere we’ve played in the league this year was a packed house.”

In the regular season, UH was the only team in the country to be perfect in true road games, going 11-0.

Sampson has no reason to believe that will change on Saturday night.

“I think we’re going to play good tomorrow night,” Sampson said. “That’s been our M.O. I trust my kids. I really do.”

UH All-American guard Marcus Sasser, who said he is 100 percent certain he will play against the Tigers despite the lingering groin injury he’s been battling, said he expects 75 to 80 percent of the crowd to be cheering for Auburn.

That’s fine by him and his teammates.

They will stick to the same recipe that has produced road wins all season.

“When we go into road games we always it’s us versus everybody,” Sasser said. “That’s one of our sayings that we say before every road game and that’s the same saying we’re going to say (Saturday).”

While the stakes are higher, with a trip to the Sweet 16 being on the line, the Cougars have been at their best all season when their back is against the wall.

Saturday night is nothing new. It’s just another bump in UH’s quest to get to NRG Stadium.

“When somebody rattles our cage, we’ve got a hell of a bite back,” Kellen said. “We don’t run our fastest until we feel another heartbeat against our chest. I think that’s what made this team the next road team in America this year.”

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