Continuing to build: Kelvin Sampson knows his Houston Cougars will keep improving as season progresses

Mandatory Credit: Photo by Andy Nelson/AP/Shutterstock (13631949a) Oregon guard Rivaldo Soares (11) tries to control the ball as Houston guard Marcus Sasser (0) defends during the first half of an NCAA college basketball game, in Eugene, Ore Houston Oregon Basketball, Eugene, United States – 20 Nov 2022

Continuing to build: Kelvin Sampson knows his Houston Cougars will keep improving as season progresses

EUGENE, ORE. — For the first time since the end of February 1984, the Houston Cougars men’s basketball team, led by Kelvin Sampson, is ranked as the second-best team in the entire country in both the USA Today Sports Coaches Poll and Associated Press Poll.

The Cougars (5-0) defeated Oregon in its latest outing on Sunday night. Houston’s victory saw guards Terrance Arceneaux, Marcus Sasser, and Jamal Shead help lift UH over the Ducks. While it may seem like Houston is hitting on all cylinders from the outside, head coach Kelvin Sampson said his team is far from a finished product and is only going to get better as the season progresses.

“It’s still early; there is not one part of the game that we are not going to get better at as we go,” said Sampson after the game against Oregon. “It’s our fifth game. It’s not our 25th game. It’s our fifth game, which means Terrance Arceneaux has played five college games in his career. [Jarace] Walker’s played five, and look at how those guys played tonight on the road in front of 14-15,000. I was proud of them.”

The two freshmen made plays for Houston throughout the night in Eugene. Arceneaux’s personal 8-0 run in the first half helped give UH an advantage it never relinquished, and Walker, while dealing with foul trouble, made standout plays scattered throughout the night.

Walker had an absurd play toward the middle of the first half against Oregon. The New Freedom, Pennsylvania, native was guarding Oregon guard Will Richardson on a baseline inbounds play.

Walker’s size and length alone were enough to cause issues for Richardson, but when he attempted to pass the ball in, Walker tipped the ball and popped it in the air. He then skied up, grabbed it, and spiked it back to Richardson to force an incredible turnover that bought Houston an extra possession out of thin air.

However, not everything was perfect for Houston. Oregon proved to be a strong team that never allowed the Cougars to run away with the lead. In particular, the Ducks’ size gave the Cougars problems, especially center N’Faly Dante, but UH was ultimately able to overcome them.

“We had veteran guys last year [in the front court]. We had two fifth-year seniors, and this year we got a freshman [Walker], and [J’Wan] Roberts is actually a sophomore,” Sampson said. “He’s got two more years after this.

“You could tell our size was a little bit of a factor, but I never felt like that was going to lose the game for us because I thought, for the most part, we kept them out of the paint, and our pick and roll defense was good. But, [Dante] is huge; that kid is huge.”

Towards the end of the game, Oregon had managed to cut the deficit to just six after Houston had built as much as a 16-point cushion.

With just over two minutes left in the game and the shot clock winding down, Houston guard Tramon Mark passed up a shot to Walker, who passed up a decent look to Shead, which caused a shot clock violation turnover for the Cougars. While the play did not affect the outcome of the game, it is one that can become a teaching experience.

“[Walker] is learning,” Shead told Gallery Sports after the game. “[There was] only three seconds left on the [shot] clock. He pumped fake, waited, and then he passed it to me. You either got to shoot it or pass it sooner, but he is learning. This is what, his fifth game of college basketball? He’ll get it.”

The head coach said that end-of-the-game situation is an area that Houston, as a team, will improve on as the year goes on.

“Tramon [passed up a shot] too,” Sampson said. “Tramon probably should have taken his. When Tramon passed his up, he put us behind the eight ball. And when Jarace passed his up, we might as well have handed them the ball … We’ll learn.”

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