Making a living: Houston Cougars basketball crushes Tulsa with defense, rebounding in lopsided win

Mandatory Credit: Photo by Eric Christian Smith/AP/Shutterstock (13760019c) Tulsa guard Brandon Betson (11) drives to the basket as Houston guard Tramon Mark, left, and forward Ja’Vier Francis (5) defend during the first half of an NCAA college basketball game, in Houston Tulsa Basketball, Houston, United States – 08 Feb 2023

Making a living: Houston Cougars basketball crushes Tulsa with defense, rebounding in lopsided win

No. 2 Houston Cougars basketball flexed every single one of its muscles in its 80-42 beatdown of Tulsa on Wednesday night.

Ignited by a personal 12-0 run from senior guard Marcus Sasser that gave UH a 19-10 lead, the Cougars put together a dominant performance against the Golden Hurricane, and they did it by excelling in the areas that have become a UH calling card — defense and rebounding.

“That is what we have made our living on around here for a long time,” Houston Cougars head coach Kelvin Sampson told reporters after the game. “We’ve defended, and we’ve rebounded.”

In the first half, the Cougars out-rebounded the Golden Hurricane 30-13. UH secured 11 offensive rebounds on 20 of its misses, which exceeded the 50% Sampson has said in the past is the goal he sets for his team when it comes to the percentage of offensive rebounds it should aim for.

Houston also ended the first half on a 37-8 run, holding Tulsa to an abysmal 3-for-23 shooting from the field. The Golden Hurricane shot just 15-of-54 from the field, or 27.78%, for the entire game.

UH, which is known for its strong defense, ranking as one of the top teams in the nation in various defensive categories, feels like it is only continuing to improve.

One player that has seen that advancement is redshirt freshman guard Emanuel Sharp, who believes he has made huge strides on the defensive side of the ball since early in the season.

“I would say a lot,” said Sharp on how he feels his defense has improved. “I’m just more comfortable on the defensive end. The more you play, the more experience you have, you know where to be and what spots to be, so just being out there on the floor more, it really helps my defense.”

Stretches like one that occurred at just under the 12-minute mark were common for Houston throughout the night. Sasser was defending his man step-for-step, forcing him to pass it to senior guard Keyshawn Embery-Simpson.

Embery-Simpson was being defended by UH redshirt sophomore guard Tramon Mark. Similar to Sasser, Mark hounded his man on defense and forced him into a contested jumper.

The long rebound came toward Mark, who poked it up in the air and secured the rebound. Mark then passed it up to Sasser for a fast-break layup that was two of his 25 points on the night.

As a team, Houston had 21 assists on 31 of its made baskets, which Sampson highlighted in his postgame news conference.

“That is not easy to do, but Marcus plays the right way,” Sampson said. “We give our kids freedom to make plays. The caveat is to make the right play. It doesn’t mean you have to shoot it.”

Junior point guard Jamal Shead had 12 of the 21 assists against Tulsa. For the season, Shead is averaging 5.6 assists to only 1.84 turnovers per game. It is an impressive assist-to-turnover ratio, which for Sampson, also shows the progress his guard has made.

“One of the things Jamal had to get better at [was] hit singles,” Sampson said. “Be Tom Brady, not Patrick Mahomes. Patrick Mahomes can throw 45-yard post routes on a dime, whereas Tom Brady he just throws a two-yard hook or a screen pass, and the guy runs 45.”

Sampson said that freshman guard Terrance Arceneaux did not finish the game on Wednesday after rolling his ankle against the Golden Hurricane. He did not mention the severity of the injury.

Houston will be off an extra number of days until its next game on Feb. 16 against SMU. With March fast approaching and the postseason tournaments looming, Sampson knows that his team needs to continue to trend upward.

“We are a good defensive team,” Sampson said. “We are a good rebounding team, not great. I’ve had some great rebounding teams, but we are still good. We are still a good rebounding team, but we are working to get better. The season is a lot like an elevator. You’re either going up or going down. You always work to go up.”

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