Second-half play an emphasis for Houston Cougars basketball in its victory over Cincinnati

Mandatory Credit: Photo by David J Phillip/AP/Shutterstock (13698486b) Houston’s Marcus Sasser brings the ball up the court against Central Florida during the first half of an NCAA college basketball game, in Houston UCF Basketball, Houston, United States – 31 Dec 2022

Second-half play an emphasis for Houston Cougars basketball in its victory over Cincinnati

CINCINNATI — The Houston Cougars basketball team has focused on coming out of halftime breaks with a purpose in the last couple of games.

Ever since the team’s game against Central Florida, in which the Knights went on a 15-3 run to open the second half, Houston (16-1, 4-0 American Athletic) has made it a priority to come out of the break with intensity, head coach Kelvin Sampson said on Sunday. Against Cincinnati, the Cougars did just that.

“I thought we came out of the second half with a really good mindset,” Sampson stated. “You know I keep going back to that UCF game. We kind of lit them up about how the way we started the second half in that game.”

Houston opened the second half against the Bearcats on a 15-2 run that turned the Cougars’ seven-point lead into a 20-point cushion that Cincinnati was never able to fully rally from.

“We came out with a purpose,” Sampson said. “We knew exactly how we wanted to guard their actions. We knew the shots we were looking for on offense. We just stayed connected. Anytime you go on the road, you know the other team is going to make a run.”

After the Cougars went up by 20, Cincinnati slowly chipped away at the deficit. A 3-point jumper by guard Mika Adams-Woods and a layup by sophomore forward Viktor Lakhin cut Houston’s lead to just 10 with under six minutes left in the second half.

During the Bearcats’ run, Houston let go of the rope on some of its coverage calls, Sampson said. The Cougars were favoring the shooters on pick-and-rolls instead of favoring the team’s system, the head coach added.

Sampson called timeout after the lead shrunk to 10. Houston used it to reconnect how it was going to play defense. Then UH got a few stops and was able to extend the lead again en route to a decisive road win, Sampson said.

“Whoever wins the conference is usually a good road team,” Sampson said. “We’ve been a good road team for a long time. But, you know, every team is different. Last year, we came in here with an older, veteran team, and four of those starters are gone now. So, now we got a completely different lineup outside of Jamal [Shead].”

Regardless of where Houston sits in Monday’s national polls, which could likely be at No. 1 in both The Associated Press and USA Today coaches polls, Sampson believes his team is still ascending.

“I think this team is still growing,” Sampson said. “I don’t mean that to say, well how much better can you get, I just think we can get better. I have no idea. Maybe a little bit better. Maybe a smidge. Maybe a nudge. Maybe a little bit more than a little bit. I have no idea. But the goal is to find out how do you continue to get better?”

The Cougars will watch film on Monday. Sampson will point out several things the team did well, but he will also point out several things they dropped the ball in against Cincinnati, he said. It is all a process.

“We are still evolving as a team,” Sampson said.

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