Mar 24, 2023; Kansas City, MO, USA; The Houston Cougars before an NCAA tournament Midwest Regional semifinal against the Miami Hurricanes at T-Mobile Center. Mandatory Credit: Jay Biggerstaff-USA TODAY Sports
Houston Cougars basketball’s 2022-23 team will be remembered by one word: family
While the Houston Cougars basketball team’s 2022-23 season did not end with the storybook ending at NRG Stadium, this iteration of UH players will always remember their teammates as brothers.
It was a journey that began in June during the scorching Houston summer heat and ended on a near-freezing, rainy night in Kansas City.
In a locker room filled with tears and sadness, one thing hurt the players above all else: that this team would never play together while representing UH again.
“I don’t think I’ve ever cried this much after a loss,” Houston Cougars freshman forward Jarace Walker said. “We just got so close so quick, and we just been through so much so fast. Like when I call these people my brothers, I really mean that. Each and every one of them.”
The sadness was so thick inside Houston’s locker room at T-Mobile Center on Saturday, reporters felt as if they could cut it with a knife when they were finally allowed in.
Redshirt freshman big man Cedric Lath, who joined the program in early January and did not play a single minute for the Cougars this season, still had tears in his eyes when reporters walked in.
Redshirt freshman guard Emanuel Sharp answered questions, but his mind was clearly still processing the loss. When asked by Gallery Sports if it felt surreal, he responded with a simple word: “yeah”.
“It just sucks because I feel like this year was our year,” Sharp lamented. “Just to come up short like this, when you know you were so close to getting back to Houston, is just rough.”
All year, Houston battled through adversity and played with the pressure of being a top-five team in the country.
After they lost to Alabama, the Cougars responded with a dominating win over North Carolina A&T. After UH lost to Temple, it went on the road and secured a signature win at Central Florida.
Even in the American Athletic Conference Championship game versus Memphis, when Houston fell behind by 20 points without senior guard Marcus Sasser, the team responded by cutting the deficit to just five points.
Against Northern Kentucky, Sharp’s 3-pointers gave the Cougars the separation they needed to hold off the Norse and win. Versus Auburn, a complete second-half turnaround lifted UH past the Tigers. All season long, Houston answered the call.
It is why when Houston got within two points against Miami in the second half of the Sweet Sixteen game, it seemed like the Cougars were about to add another breakthrough in its season’s showcase. It never came.
“We needed to make a play,” head coach Kelvin Sampson said. “We had a transition 3 right in front of our bench. Those are the shots we’ve made all year, but not tonight.”
The Hurricanes were hot, and they are a great team.
Ironically, it is why they overcame a double-digit deficit over Texas to get to Houston and play in the Final Four. None of the trends from earlier in the season mattered for the Cougars. For the Longhorns, not even the battles of the Big 12 made a difference.
As Jim Nantz put it inside the tunnel of the T-Mobile Center — it is March Madness.
For Houston’s players, what will last long beyond this season are the bonds they created.
“Everybody is just a family here, so everybody cares about each other,” Sasser said. “The way [the coaches] just take their time out of their day to come be in the gym with us all day when they’ve got families at home and other things to do, I couldn’t thank them enough for that.”