No. 1 Houston Cougars basketball continues striving for its ceiling, despite rout of Tulane, it hasn’t been reached yet

Mandatory Credit: Photo by Kevin M Cox/AP/Shutterstock (13779320k) Tulane forward Collin Holloway works out of a double-team by Houston forward J’Wan Roberts (13) and guard Jamal Shead (1) during the first half of an NCAA college basketball game, in Houston Tulane Basketball, Houston, United States – 22 Feb 2023

No. 1 Houston Cougars basketball continues striving for its ceiling, despite rout of Tulane, it hasn’t been reached yet

No. 1 Houston Cougars basketball put together a complete beat down of Tulane on Wednesday night. Despite doing so, head coach Kelvin Sampson joined by his two leaders on the team—senior guard Marcus Sasser and junior point guard Jamal Shead—sat at the postgame news conference thinking about ways for the team to get better.

The Cougars did just about everything well against the Green Wave. They shot 31-of-66 from the field. They rebounded 18 of their 35 misses, which is what Sampson looks at to judge if his team did well in the offensive rebounding department. Because they got more than half their misses on the offensive boards, that means Houston did well against Tulane.

Houston got 22 assists on its 31 makes. Sasser put up 22 points. Junior forward J’Wan Roberts set a new career-high with 26 points. Freshman forward Jarace Walker set a new career-high with 13 rebounds. As impressive as Wednesday’s performance was, the key for Sampson now is consistency.

“We will have to see the next game,” Sampson said on Wednesday. “We aren’t throwing parties or passing balloons out just because we did it tonight. I’ll see on Saturday. If it happened once, it might be an accident. If it happens twice, it could be a coincidence. If it happened three or more times, it could be a habit.”

The Cougars are in the business of building winning tendencies, from player development right to the minuscule details of being at a certain spot on a defensive rotation or performing a particular drill in practice a specific way.

It is one of the reasons Houston has thrived over the last few years.

“You usually achieve what you emphasize, not just offensive rebounding. We emphasize a lot of things,” Sampson said. “Our half-court defense and our rebounding on both ends have always been pillars of our program. On nights that we shoot well, we look pretty good.”

With the victory over Tulane, Houston clinched at least a share of the regular season American Athletic Conference championship. Sitting at 14-1 against conference foes, UH can clinch sole possession of the championship with a win against East Carolina on Saturday.

For the Cougars, however, not a single focus on Wednesday night was on achieving that accolade. From outside the program, clinching the regular season title is supposed to be step one in what could be a plethora of items on a checklist heading toward NRG Stadium in April.

For Sampson, however, he has his own checklist. After Sunday’s game against Memphis, it included getting more players involved on the offensive glass and playing better with a double-digit lead. Following the Tulane game, it will include new items.

“I don’t really think about [the success of the program],” Sampson said. “We’ve been winning for a long time. I just don’t ever get carried away with it. There will be a time to reflect on those things, but now is not that time.”

For now, Houston’s focus is on improving.

The Cougars have three regular-season games left, then the conference tournament, and finally, the NCAA Tournament.

From now until the final game of Houston’s season, whenever that may be, the team will seek to hit its ceiling. If you ask the players about it, they will keep saying they have room to grow until there are no games left to be played.

One thing is for sure, despite the big win against Tulane, that ceiling has not been hit yet for them.

“We’ve been coming together as a team,” Shead said. “I still feel like we haven’t reached our ceiling, and I feel like that’s the most exciting thing as the season continues on.”

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