PREVIEW: No. 1 Houston Cougars basketball hosts Wichita State on senior night

Mandatory Credit: Photo by Scott Kinser/CSM/Shutterstock (13783451n) Houston Cougars guard Marcus Sasser (0) drives to the basket past East Carolina Pirates guard Benjamin Bayela (5) during the first half of the AAC basketball matchup at Minges Coliseum in Greenville, NC NCAA Basketball Houston at East Carolina, Greenville, USA – 25 Feb 2023

PREVIEW: No. 1 Houston Cougars basketball hosts Wichita State on senior night

No. 1 Houston Cougars basketball will honor its class of 2023 seniors when it plays Wichita State on Thursday evening at Fertitta Center.

The Cougars (27-2, 15-1 American Athletic) have won nine straight games and have clinched the outright conference regular season title. The Shockers (15-13, 8-8 AAC) enter Thursday’s matchup winners of five straight road games, including a victory at Tulane in their last outing on Sunday.

For Houston Cougars head coach Kelvin Sampson, the key to a victory over Wichita State will be patience. UH will need to key in on the Shockers’ starting point guard, Craig Porter Jr., who is coming off a 15 point, 10 assist, 10 rebound performance against the Green Wave.

“Their point guard is a kid I’ve always liked,” Sampson told reporters in a Tuesday morning Zoom call. “Craig Porter, he had a triple-double … I think that is just a reflection of how well-rounded a player Porter is. When you go on the road and win, you better have good point guard or guard play in general, and he is that.”

Houston played Wichita State earlier this season in Kansas at the beginning of February. The Cougars came away with the 70-61 win, but the Shockers played the Cougars well. Junior guard Jaykwon Walton led the way with 24 points against Houston.

Senior forward James Rojas had 15 points and seven rebounds against the Cougars. Houston held Porter to just seven points on 2-of-14 shooting.

“Think about those three guards,” Sampson said. “Porter [had a] triple-double. Pierre [had] 28 against Tulane. Walton [had] 24 against us [in the first meeting], Rojas [had] 22 against Tulane. A few games back, [Kenny] Pohto had 28 against SMU. That is their starting five.”

For the season, Walton leads Wichita State in points per game with 14 per outing. Porter leads the team with 6.4 rebounds, 4.6 assists, 1.5 blocks, and 1.4 steals per contest.

Sophomore guard Jaron Pierre Jr. is averaging 10.4 points per contest. Rojas is averaging 10.2 points and 6.1 rebounds, and Pohto is averaging 8.7 points and 5.6 rebounds.

“Their starting five is playing as good as anybody’s starting five,” Sampson said. “They play fast. Our transition defense has to be on point. We’ve got to be patient on defense. Patience doesn’t always apply on offense. It is just as important to be patient on defense and be disciplined on defense.”

Before the game tips off, Houston will be honoring its seniors—guard Marcus Sasser, big man Reggie Chaney, and big man Darius Bowser. The Cougars will hold ceremonies recognizing the three players beginning around 5:20 p.m., per a UH spokesperson.

If Houston defeats Wichita State, the team will also do the ceremonial cutting of the nets at the conclusion of the game to celebrate its regular season conference title it clinched on Saturday in East Carolina.

For those not attending the game in person, Houston and Wichita State is slated for a 6 p.m. tipoff and will air on ESPN2. The radio call can be heard on KPRC 950 AM.

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