PREVIEW: For No. 2 Houston Cougars basketball, the game against Memphis will be a battle of two cultures

Mandatory Credit: Photo by Tony Gutierrez/AP/Shutterstock (13771093c) Houston forward J’Wan Roberts dunks as SMU’s Stefan Todorovic defends during the first half of an NCAA college basketball game, in Dallas Houston SMU Basketball, Dallas, United States – 16 Feb 2023

PREVIEW: For No. 2 Houston Cougars basketball, the game against Memphis will be a battle of two cultures

The Houston Cougars basketball team will meet one of, if not its only, true American Athletic Conference rival on Sunday afternoon at the Fertitta Center.

No. 2 Houston (24-2, 12-1 AAC) and Memphis games are known for their high intensity, physicality, and just about everything else. It is why in the last seven meetings, UH holds a narrow 4-3 edge.

“Our culture against their culture,” Houston Cougars junior forward J’Wan Roberts said on Friday about Sunday’s matchup. “Everything that we’ve been doing from day one and everything they’ve been since day one.”

He was answering a question about what a culture game is. It was a phrase used by multiple of Roberts’ teammates, including senior guard Marcus Sasser, to describe UH’s game against Memphis.

“This is going to be a high intense game, kind of like two rivals going at it,” Sasser said. “I feel like it is going to be an intense game the whole 40 minutes. This is like a culture game. You got to be tough and do all the small things. All the loose balls. All the rebounds. I think that is going to win this game.”

For Houston head coach Kelvin Sampson, everything for Memphis starts with fifth-year point guard Kendric Davis. After transferring from SMU to Memphis in the offseason, he has been a perfect fit for the Tigers.

“You start with KD. Kendric, since he transferred from [SMU], he’s been a dynamic force in this league,” Sampson said. “He [was] the player of the year last year at SMU, and he is having another player of the year [season] again this year.”

Davis is averaging 21.3 points and 5.8 assists per game this season. Something to keep an eye on this Sunday will be his right ankle. Davis missed a large portion of the Tigers’ game on Thursday night against Central Florida after rolling it in the first half.

Memphis’ point guard returned to the sideline but did not play in the game. He was wearing a walking boot. After the game, head coach Penny Hardaway said the boot was for precautionary reasons only, according to the Commercial Appeal.

Sampson said it is not even a second thought for him on if Davis will play. He expects to see him on the floor on Sunday. Sampson also believes Memphis will have fifth-year senior guard Alex Lomax and senior forward Malcolm Dandridge available as well. They have been dealing with injuries leading up to their matchup with Houston.

The Tigers (20-6, 10-3 AAC) also have a matchup nightmare in fifth-year senior big man DeAndre Williams. His basketball IQ is one of the highest in the country, Sampson said. Williams is averaging 17.3 points and 8.1 rebounds per outing for Memphis.

“If you double him, he’s almost 6-10. He’s got long arms. He can see over you,” Sampson said. “Then, if you play him one-on-one, he can score. Penny and his staff have done a great job of surrounding him with really good personnel.”

This season’s Memphis team is a little bit different from those in the past. Under Hardaway, the Tigers have always had high-ranked freshmen, such as Emoni Bates, Jalen Duren, and James Wiseman, even though he hardly played for the Tigers.

Now, Memphis is coming into Houston with a much more experienced and veteran-led team. Sunday’s game between the programs will be the latest chapter in what could be one of the final meetings for the foreseeable future as the Cougars head for the Big 12 in the summer.

“I don’t know the [series], but I know since I’ve been here, it’s been pretty close, so to me, it’s a rival for sure,” Sasser said. “They beat us some, we’ve beat them some, so it always feels good just to beat them.”

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