Mandatory Credit: Photo by Kevin M Cox/AP/Shutterstock (13660490q) Houston forward Jarace Walker (25), center, Alabama forward Noah Gurley (4) and guard Jaden Bradley (0) battle for a loose ball during the first half of an NCAA college basketball game, in Houston Alabama Basketball, Houston, United States – 10 Dec 2022
No. 1 Houston Cougars men’s basketball suffered its first defeat of the year on Saturday afternoon against No. 8 Alabama.
The Cougars (9-1) led by as many as 15 points in the second half, but the Crimson Tide made an impressive rally in front of a hostile crowd to get out of the Fertitta Center with a 71-65 win.
For Houston head coach Kelvin Sampson, the game changed when Alabama stopped running sets and began spreading UH out across the floor and beating them off the dribble.
“We got exposed,” Sampson told reporters after the game. “We exposed them for a while, and then they turned around and exposed us.”
After a layup by Houston freshman forward Jarace Walker, the Cougars went up 44-29 early in the second half. Then, Alabama subbed out starters Mark Sears, Charles Bediako, Brandon Miller, and Nimari Burnett.
The Crimson Tide abandoned trying to run sets and just began attacking the Cougars, which caused issues for UH. Not only did Houston struggle staying in front of Alabama’s players, but it also caused confusion in various areas, such as on ball screens, Sampson said.
“When you’re down , sometimes you just throw stuff at the wall, see what will happen,” Sampson stated. “That’s a talented team. They are good.”
Houston allowed Alabama’s players to get into the paint off the dribble. Because the Cougars’ players are taught to help when a teammate is beaten off the dribble, the Crimson Tide were then able to kick out and find open teammates for shots, Sampson said.
The head coach added that the way to combat that is not to get beat off the dribble. Houston’s on-ball defenders were getting turned around after getting beat off the dribble.
“We just couldn’t guard,” Houston guard Jamal Shead said. “We didn’t stay in front of the ball for about four, five straight possessions, and that is how they got back in it. And then we just weren’t tough enough to finish it out.”
Sampson said more often than not, the team that wins the first dribble wins the possession. He will be looking to emphasize to his players that they need to be more aggressive when guarding the ball.
On offense, Houston struggled shooting throughout the night. The Cougars had a strong flurry at the end of the first half and the beginning of the second to build the 15-point advantage. Houston went on an 18-2 run, but the tide turned in favor of Alabama in the latter portion of the second half.
Houston guard Tramon Mark fouled out of the game with 8:09 left in the game. Alabama outscored UH, 18-8, to end the game. The Cougars got the shots they wanted, Sampson said. They just have to do a better job at knocking them down, he added.
The Cougars had only one field goal in the final 5:16 of the contest against the Crimson Tide. They only scored four points total in that stretch. Houston also missed crucial free throws and committed costly fouls during Alabama’s rally.
“All the little stuff matters,” Sampson said. “We fouled the 3-point shooter twice, for instance. That matters. Missed 10 free throws; that matters. Getting beat on a ball screen [that matters].”
For Houston, the goal is to learn from the disappointing loss as it turns its attention to North Carolina A&T before heading to Charlottesville for a battle with No. 3 Virginia.
“We just got to keep working at it. It’s not our last game,” Sampson said. “Nobody around here [is] going to quit or nothing. [We] just got to figure out the mistakes that we made in this game with these young kids and keep going.”