Men's Basketball Sports

UH basketball: With injuries piling up, Cougars must get creative to keep dream season alive

After staying relatively healthy all season, the injury bug has bitten the UH basketball team hard over the past week. | Anh Le/The Cougar

After staying relatively healthy all season, the injury bug has bitten the UH basketball team hard over the past week. | Anh Le/The Cougar

BIRMINGHAM, Ala. — While Houston got one step closer to playing a Final Four in its own backyard, the road to NRG Stadium became much more difficult after Thursday night.

Marcus Sasser aggravated the groin injury he suffered in the American Athletic Conference Tournament semifinals on March 11.

Jamal Shead, the glue that holds the Cougars together, hyperextended his right knee which he said had been bothering him prior to UH’s win over Northern Kentucky at Legacy Arena in the first round of the NCAA Tournament.

“We’re not the team we were that was 31-3 and a 1-seed,” said UH head coach Kelvin Sampson. “The team on the floor (Thursday) is not a 1-seed. The last time we were a 1-seed team was probably when we played Cincinnati. That team was a 1-seed. Memphis, no. And tonight, no. And we have to figure it out. That’s my responsibility. I’ll do the best I can with that.”

With Auburn awaiting the Midwest Region’s top seed, Sampson has a day to figure out how to piece together a beat-up team in time for Saturday night in what is basically a home game for the Tigers.

“We’ve got to go see how many healthy bodies we have right now,” Sampson said. “That’s probably our most important thing right now.”

Though banged up, Shead said there is no way he is missing the Cougars’ date with Auburn.

“I’m playing,” Shead said when asked about his status for Saturday’s game. “Everybody has bumps and bruises during this time of year. (I’m) just going to go out there and give it my all. We only got a couple of games left. (I) don’t want to miss anything.”

Sasser, though confident he will be good to go for Saturday’s game, is an even bigger question mark given how long groin injuries can linger.

Should Sasser have even played against Northern Kentucky?

That can be debated but Sampson doesn’t believe it was the wrong choice to start the All-American in the Cougars’ NCAA Tournament opener. 

“I trust Marcus and I trust our trainer,” Sampson said. “I would have been fine if he decided not to play tonight. But he wanted to give it a try because he thought he was at a high enough percentage (out) of 100 that he could go.”

Obviously, UH relies on Sasser’s scoring. The senior guard has eclipsed the 20-point mark 12 times this season and averages a team-high 16.7 points per game,

But to Sasser, it’s his limitations on defense that concern him most.

This is why he did not return in the second half against Northern Kentucky.

“I didn’t want to come out but I didn’t want to be a liability on defense either,” Sasser said. “The power, the explosiveness, it’s not the same with a groin injury.”

Even if Sasser and Shead both play on Saturday, they will not be 100 percent.

UH overcame an injury-ridden year a season ago and advanced all the way to the Elite Eight.

To keep the dream of winning the national championship in their home city alive, whatever lineup Sampson decides to throw out on the court come Saturday night will have to find a way to reignite the magic that earned the Cougars a No. 1 seed.

“We will go regroup, see how many bodies we have for Saturday, see who’s available and go play,” Sampson said.

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