Defense and rebounding: what Houston Cougars basketball has relied on all season long

Mandatory Credit: Photo by Rogelio V Solis/AP/Shutterstock (13833624s) Auburn guard Wendell Green Jr. (1) scores a layup past Houston forwards Jarace Walker (25) and J’Wan Roberts, right, in the second half of a second-round college basketball game in the NCAA Tournament in Birmingham, Ala NCAA Auburn Houston Basketball, Birmingham, United States – 18 Mar 2023

Defense and rebounding: what Houston Cougars basketball has relied on all season long

All eyes were on redshirt sophomore guard Tramon Mark’s outstanding second-half offensive performance, but the Houston Cougars relied on defense and rebounding to shut down Auburn in the second half of its NCAA Tournament Round of 32 game.

Defense and rebounding have been Houston’s calling cards all year long, and they are what the Cougars will continue to rely on for however many games they play, head coach Kelvin Sampson told reporters in a Zoom call on Tuesday morning.

“We are 33-3 because we can defend and rebound,” Sampson said. “On nights we make baskets, we’re pretty good, but everything starts with defense and rebounding, and that requires a certain attitude, a certain mindset.”

That mindset is a non-negotiable for everyone in the program, from the No. 1 player to the last person off the bench. That is why Sampson got on senior guard Marcus Sasser for his first-half performance against the Tigers.

“You score a basket, you give up a basket,” Sampson told Sasser against Auburn. “You miss a basket, you still give up another basket. You’ve got to guard.”

Sampson’s message resonated with the Dallas native, and the Cougars followed.

Auburn scored 41 points against Houston in the first half. It was only the third time all year UH had given up more than 40 points in the opening period of a game.

In the second half, Houston flipped the switch. The Cougars held the Tigers to just 23 points on 4-of-24 shooting and out-rebounded Auburn 26-13 in the final period.

While Mark put up 20 points in the second half, he also pulled down four rebounds in the period, and nine rebounds for the game, Sampson pointed out on Tuesday. Freshman forward Jarace Walker had 10 rebounds, seven of which came in the second half.

Junior guard J’Wan Roberts had seven rebounds. Freshman guard Emanuel Sharp also got all four of his rebounds in the closing half.

Houston averages 39.06 rebounds per game, 16th-most in the country. The Cougars track down 12.86 offensive boards per contest, tied for second in the country on a percentage basis. The Cougars are 11th in the nation in total rebound percentage.

“That’s the biggest thing, you know, going into every game,” Sasser told reporters in a scrum after Tuesday’s practice. “That is something you can control. You can control your defense, your rebounding, your effort. You can’t control when a shot is going in or not, so I just feel like that is always going to keep us in the game.”

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