PREVIEW: No. 2 Houston Cougars basketball returns to action against SMU, for Sasser it is a homecoming

Mandatory Credit: Photo by Phelan M Ebenhack/AP/Shutterstock (13744223hn) Houston guard Marcus Sasser (0) is defended by Central Florida guard Darius Johnson (3) during the second half of an NCAA college basketball game, in Orlando, Fla Houston UCF Basketball, Orlando, United States – 25 Jan 2023

PREVIEW: No. 2 Houston Cougars basketball returns to action against SMU, for Sasser it is a homecoming

The Houston Cougars basketball team, after having a week off from competition, returns to the hardwood on Thursday evening to take on the SMU Mustangs at Moody Coliseum.

No. 2 Houston (23-2, 11-1 American Athletic) will be looking for the season sweep of SMU. The Cougars ran over the Mustangs in their earlier meeting this season, an 87-53 demolition on Jan. 5.

Despite UH’s dominance last time out against SMU, Houston head coach Kelvin Sampson said the Cougars will be playing a different Mustangs team this time.

“Teams get better as the year goes on,” Sampson said. “The [Zhuric] Phelps kid had been hurt. I think they were just coming from a tournament in Hawaii [when both teams played in January] … The Phelps kid was hurt. He is back healthy now.

“I think he had 26 [points] Sunday at Wichita State. They lost in double overtime, so this is a much, much, much, much better basketball team today than they were a month ago.”

In addition to Phelps, a sophomore guard, Sampson spoke highly of SMU senior guard Zach Nutall on Tuesday. He called Nutall an elite athlete and a keg of dynamite because you never know when he will go off. The Houston head coach also pointed out senior forward Samuell Williamson.

For the season, SMU (9-17, 4-9 AAC) has been led by Phelps, who is averaging 17.4 points, 2.9 assists, and 3.7 rebounds per game. He scored just six points on 2-of-11 shooting last time against Houston. Nutall is second on the team in points per game, averaging 13.5.

Williamson has been the Mustangs’ leading rebounder for the season. He is averaging 7.4 boards per contest and also 8.6 points per outing. He had just four points and five rebounds in the first meeting against the Cougars.

SMU is entering Thursday’s matchup losers of three of its last five games; however, four of those five games have been decided by five points or less.

“You can tell they are a lot more comfortable,” Sampson said. “They are a better team today, a much better team, than when we played them. They are all healthy now. They got all of these games under their belt.”

For Houston senior guard Marcus Sasser, Thursday’s game will be a homecoming for the Dallas native. He anticipates seeing a lot of his family in attendance for the game. On Monday evening, he said he enjoys playing in front of his hometown.

“It is always fun to go back there,” Sasser said. “I feel like every year that I always go back; it has always been fun just to see family and friends and cousins and uncles and all that. Just playing where you grew up, you’re going to see all your coaches, AAU coaches, so yeah, it is always fun to go back up there.”

Sasser is averaging 21.5 points per game against the Mustangs in Dallas throughout his collegiate career.

“I know this is like a rivalry game,” Sasser said. “The crowd will be in it. I know they are going to be pumped up, but you know, we just got to come out and play our game and match their intensity really.”

Injury update

Houston Cougars freshman guard Terrance Arceneaux could miss Thursday’s game, Sampson said on Monday during his weekly radio show.

Arceneaux sprained his ankle in last Wednesday’s victory over Tulsa, Sampson stated.

“We think he is going to be back sooner rather than later. I don’t think he is going to play Thursday but you never know,” Sampson said.

Arceneaux was at Monday’s practice, but Sampson said he only participated in individual work and shooting drills. The head coach did not give an update about Arceneaux on Tuesday.

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