Mandatory Credit: Photo by Andy Nelson/AP/Shutterstock (13631949n) Oregon center Nate Bittle (32), right, battles with Houston forward Reggie Chaney (32) for a loose ball during the second as Oregon guard Will Richardson (0), behind, Oregon center N’Faly Dante (1) and Houston guard Terrance Arceneaux (23) come in on the play during the second half of an NCAA college basketball game, in Eugene, Ore Houston Oregon Basketball, Eugene, United States – 20 Nov 2022
Houston Cougars men’s basketball sits as the No. 2 team in the entire country behind only North Carolina, but for head coach Kelvin Sampson and his staff, the team’s latest outing against Oregon showed an area in which they must improve going forward.
Against the Ducks, the Cougars were out-rebounded 37-28, which is something that has not happened often versus Houston in the recent past. Despite losing the rebound battle overall, UH managed to beat out Oregon in second-chance points [17-15]. Sampson said after practice on Tuesday that his team needs to improve at rebounding and playing at a faster pace.
“If you watch this game and listen to this game, it will teach you what you need to work on,” Sampson said. “I’ve had enough good teams over the years to compare areas of the game we need to work on. We will continue to come to work every day and keep pounding the rock.”
So far, through five games, the Houston Cougars are plus-six in rebound margin, which puts them at 76th overall in the entire country. For some people, that might be impressive, but for the Cougars, they got to get better, Sampson said.
“We got to take ownership and responsibility,” Houston guard Marcus Sasser told reporters following Tuesday’s practice about the team’s rebounding against Oregon.
Despite the high ranking and spotless win-loss record, Houston is integrating a lot of younger players into the rotation, which takes time for them to fully adjust, UH assistant coach Kellen Sampson told Gallery Sports on Tuesday.
Forward J’Wan Roberts has been around the program for a while, but he has never been a starter. Tramon Mark has never been a starter. Jamal Shead and Marcus Sasser did not get a chance to play much with each other last season. Freshmen Jarace Walker and Terrance Arceneaux are both just five games into their collegiate career, so Houston has plenty of room to keep growing.
“We are kind of where we are supposed to be in a lot of ways,” Kellen Sampson said.
“As a coach, your biggest fear sometimes is how close are you to your ceiling. You want to peak at the right time, and I think we got a lot of ceiling left with this bunch. It is our challenge each and every day to make sure they get there,” Kellen Sampson stated.
Every team that Houston plays is going to be bigger and taller than them, Kelvin Sampson said. It is something that has not hindered Houston in the past with rebounding.
“We’ve played a lot of tall teams in the past. Last time I checked, I think Arizona [last season] had three seven-footers,” Kelvin Sampson said.
The head coach said it after Sunday’s game and repeated it again on Tuesday; his Cougars will only continue to grow, not just in the rebounding category, but across the board in all facets of the game.
“There is not a part of the game; there is not one single part of the game that we are not going to get better at,” Kelvin Sampson said.
Focusing on rebounding specifically, however, Kellen Sampson said Houston needs to learn it cannot play opposing teams on even footing. They have to figure out a way to get them to play in the mud, a physical grit-and-grind style previous Houston teams were known for.
“We played that game a little bit on even terms,” Kellen Sampson said. “We didn’t play any harder than they did. We didn’t out-scrap them. We didn’t outfight them. We didn’t get any nastier or grittier than they did, and what they did to us wasn’t an accident. That’s the message we got to convey to our guys moving forward.”
In order for the message to be conveyed, Kellen Sampson said the coaching staff is tasked with painting a clear picture to each player about what the team’s expectations are and holding them to that standard every single day.
“It’s not going to be the last time that we play a team that’s got seven-footers running around,” Kellen Sampson said. “We got to be a lot better about how we are attacking teams with that kind of size, for sure.”