No. 5 Houston Cougars travel up north for a top-five showdown against No. 2 Virginia

Mandatory Credit: Photo by Emil Lippe/AP/Shutterstock (13648305p) Houston guard Jamal Shead shoots as Saint Mary’s Kyle Bowen (14) and another player defend during the second half of an NCAA college basketball game in Fort Worth, Texas Saint Marys Houston Basketball, Fort Worth, United States – 03 Dec 2022

No. 5 Houston Cougars travel up north for a top-five showdown against No. 2 Virginia

The Houston Cougars men’s basketball team will be in for another tough outing on Saturday when it heads to Charlottesville, Virginia, to take on the No. 2 Virginia Cavaliers.

Houston, who is ranked fifth in the latest Associated Press Poll and fourth in the USA Today Coaches Poll, will have a chance to secure a strong win after suffering its first loss of the year against then-eighth-ranked Alabama a week ago.

“They got an outstanding team,” UH head coach Kelvin Sampson told reporters on a Zoom call on Thursday morning. “They really don’t have a lot of holes. I think their greatest strength is their experience. They got five starters back.”

The Cavaliers enter the matchup undefeated at 8-0, including victories over then-ranked No. 5 Baylor and No. 19 Illinois. Virginia’s leading scorer is fifth-year senior Kihei Clark. He is averaging 11.6 points and five assists a game. Sampson said it is a luxury for Virginia to have a player with that much experience at the helm for their team.

Fifth-year senior Jayden Gardner is also averaging 11.6 points and 6.4 rebounds for the Cavaliers. Houston is very familiar with the Wake Forest, North Carolina, native, who spent three years in East Carolina, an American Athletic Conference foe.

Armaan Franklin and Reece Beekman are also players for the Cavaliers that are averaging double-digit points on the year. Sampson said Franklin is the player that probably epitomizes the program’s ceiling.

“When he gets going, he is really tough,” the head coach stated. “He is probably their best shooter [and] offensive player in the backcourt, but they [all] fit so well.”

When asked about the opportunity his Houston Cougars have to potentially secure a win against a top-two team in the country, Sampson said he had not thought of the matchup in that way. His biggest concern has been trying to figure out how he is going to game plan against them.

Virginia is not a team that is hard to scout because they don’t do anything earth-shattering, but it is difficult to prepare for, Sampson said. The toughest challenge the Cavaliers offer is that they are so experienced they don’t make too many errors, he added.

The Cavaliers will also be aiming to avenge last year’s brutal loss at the hands of the Cougars inside the Fertitta Center. Houston won the outing 67-47.

“Clark, Beekman, Franklin, Gardner, [Kadin] Shedrick. That is a really, really good team,” Sampson said. “Their experience, their system, how well they are coached, their discipline, they force you to play mistake-free basketball because they don’t make mistakes.”

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