Fred Faour: UH-Alabama could be biggest moment in Fertitta Center history

Mandatory Credit: Photo by Kevin M Cox/AP/Shutterstock (13640356a) Houston guard Jamal Shead (1) during the first half of an NCAA college basketball game against Kent State, in Houston Men’s Basketball, Houston, United States – 26 Nov 2022

Fred Faour: UH-Alabama could be biggest moment in Fertitta Center history

There is a pretty big game coming to Fertitta Center on Saturday. Two top 10 teams, including No. 1 in the country. A rematch of a controversial finish a year ago. A matchup of two legitimate Final Four contenders.

In fact, you can make the case that when Houston hosts Alabama on Saturday at 2 p.m., it will be the biggest game since the Cougars moved into their renovated and renamed building in 2018.

No. 8 Alabama is 7-1 on the season. No. 1 Houston is 9-0. The stage is set for the biggest game of the season for UH so far. Among regular season games, you would be hard-pressed to find any bigger in Fertitta Center history.

In UH history? Well, there is one of the most influential college basketball games ever played when UH hosted Kareem Abdul-Jabbar and the No. 1 UCLA Bruins. Elvin Hayes and the Cougars were No. 2 and unbeaten. Hayes and the Cougars won 71-69 in the first game ever broadcast in prime time on national TV. Over 50,000 fans were in the stands in that game in 1968.

Many current fans weren’t even born yet, let alone old enough to have remembered. But that game will live on forever in grainy, black-and-white photos and anniversary pieces. There won’t be a game like it ever again. The game set up the 1979 title match with Larry Bird and Indiana State against Magic Johnson that helped launch the new era of college basketball. Locally, it was a precursor to Phi Slama Jama.

But the Kelvin Sampson Cougars have done a lot of things that have not been seen since that era. A Final Four. An Elite Eight. A No. 1 ranking for the first time since 1983. They are tough, physical, well-coached and the moment is not too big for them.

A lot will be at stake in this one. If the Cougars can get by Alabama, next week could feature a potential No. 1 vs. No. 2 matchup when the Cougars play Virginia on the road.

But first things first. The Center should be rocking for this one. And it clearly will rank among the top moments in the new building – if not the top moment. Here are some other big Ferttita Center moments:

2018 – UH opens the new building with a win over No. 24 Oregon. Armoni Brooks was the star with 24 points in the 65-61 victory.

2018 – No. 24 UH rallies to knock off LSU. Galen Robinson scored 18 and Brooks added 13 second half points as the Cougars rallied from 15 down.

2020 – The Cougars wrap up the AAC title with a win over Memphis. Fabian White and Quentin Grimes were the catalysts with 18 and 17, respectively. The Coogs were No. 21 in the country and wrapped up back to back titles.

2021 – Tramon Mark’s half-court buzzer beater knocks off Memphis. It finished off a successful regular season and helped the Cougars start their run to the Final Four that season.

This game has the potential to be much, much bigger. It is the hottest ticket in town. Saturday could be a huge day for UH basketball, and maybe the biggest regular season game for these new era Cougars.

And if you aren’t lucky enough to have a ticket, it will be must-see TV. Because you just might see a little history made.

Andy Yanez contributed the Fertitta Center moments to this story.

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