For Houston Cougars basketball, victory against Memphis a testament to the culture: it is ‘what these kids do’

Mandatory Credit: Photo by Kevin M Cox/AP/Shutterstock (13774839l) Houston guard Marcus Sasser drives past Memphis guard Elijah McCadden during the second half of an NCAA college basketball game, in Houston Memphis Basketball, Houston, United States – 19 Feb 2023

For Houston Cougars basketball, victory against Memphis a testament to the culture: it is ‘what these kids do’

The Houston Cougars basketball team came out victorious in the battle of two cultures on Sunday afternoon against Memphis.

No. 2 Houston was put to the test against Memphis late as the Tigers used a final push to get within five points to make the Cougars (25-2, 13-1 American Athletic) have to execute down the stretch to secure the 72-64 victory.

“That is what these kids do,” Houston coach Kelvin Sampson said after the game. “They win. Do they look great every night? I never thought it was a beauty contest. Last time I checked you don’t put an asterisk beside anything.

“Just go win the game. Can we play better? Absolutely. That wasn’t our A game tonight for sure. But the other team can play better too, so proud of our effort. It is a big win for us.”

Memphis, similar to Alabama, began to hurt Houston late in the second half by spreading out the Cougars and attacking them on drives, Sampson said.

Houston also had the misfortune of missing a lot of open looks, the head coach added. If someone were to just see the shots UH was getting, they would say the Cougars were running a great offense. Throughout the game, the shots just did not fall, Sampson said.

The Cougars shot 23-of-51 from the field. They shot 3-of-17 from the 3-point line.

“We got to get better at being organized in the right spots when teams are only going to drive it,” Sampson said. “The [Elijah] McCadden kid was good at that. Memphis is a good team. Penny has done a nice job there over the years. Two good teams today, two tough teams. I don’t know that that was our best game, but I don’t know if that was theirs either. Just two tough teams.”

One of the facets of the game the Cougars excelled in against the Tigers was at the free throw line. Houston shot 23-of-26 from the charity stripe on Sunday. UH hit nine free throws late to help seal the victory.

“I think the team did a good job of just coming out there and executing today, knocking down our free throws,” Houston senior guard Marcus Sasser said. “J’Wan [Roberts] went 8-for-9, T-Mark only missed one, so just, you know, having that confidence and being able to ice the game with free throws.”

Roberts, a junior forward for the Cougars, starred in the game against Memphis. He set a new career-high with 20 points, and he also paired it with 12 rebounds for his fourth double-double of the season.

For Sampson, Roberts is such a really good basketball player that the head coach will call his number a lot early and often during games to get him going. Against the Tigers, Roberts made the first basket of the game, and he was active throughout the first half.

While Roberts put up 20 points for Houston, that is not an area Sampson will put much stock in when it comes to why he had such a strong game for the Cougars.

Over the course of a season, players will have up-and-down offensive performances, Sampson said. While it is much harder to put consistent showings of 20+ point games, one thing that is more common to consistently produce is high-effort contests.

“There can’t be ups and downs with effort,” Sampson said. “How hard you play. How hard you compete, that is something that we’ve tried to hang our hat on.

“I don’t want our kids thinking playing good equates to how many points I score, how many shots I get, or am I hot tonight. That is hard to play great every night doing that. Good teams, they defend, they rebound, and they play unselfish.”

With only four games left in the regular season, Houston is inching closer to clinching yet another AAC regular season championship. With the loss, Memphis fell to 20-7 and 10-4 against conference opponents.

Houston’s next game will be Wednesday against Tulane, who sits in second place in the conference with a 10-3 record against AAC foes. The Green Wave’s overall record is 17-7.

With Sampson demanding 100% effort from his players each and every game, it is not a coincidence that Houston’s opponents recognize that intensity too.

“They are a great team,” Memphis head coach Penny Hardaway told Gallery Sports. “Their culture is unbelievable, and they play hard every possession. Everything that they’re getting, they deserve. If you’re gonna beat them, you have to beat them. They’re not going to beat themselves.”

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