Top-ranked Houston is approaching its second straight 30-win season and junior point guard Jamal Shead says there is more improvement to come.
This even with the Cougars on an eight-game winning streak, including victories by 38 and 30 points, entering Saturday’s American Athletic Conference contest against East Carolina at Greenville, N.C.
“We’ve been coming together as a team,” Shead said after Wednesday’s 89-59 rout of visiting Tulane. “I still feel like we haven’t reached our ceiling, and I feel like that’s the most exciting thing as the season continues on.”
Houston (26-2, 14-1 AAC) would sew up the AAC regular-season title with a win over the Pirates (14-13, 5-9). The Cougars are 9-0 in true road games.
Barring a sudden slide, the Cougars are a near-certainty to be a No. 1 seed in next month’s NCAA Tournament.
In the past three NCAA Tournaments, Houston advanced to the Elite Eight, the Final Four and the Sweet 16. The Cougars have become a national force under coach Kelvin Sampson for the first time since the first half of the 1980s when legends such as Hakeem Olajuwon and Clyde Drexler roamed the court.
However, Sampson has a tough time discussing the program’s rise.
“It’s hard for me to talk about that,” Sampson said. “I don’t know where to start or what to say. I do the best I can to coach these kids, put them in the best position to win and for them to be successful.
“I’ve got a great staff, and we all work in conjunction with each other. We’ve been winning around here for a long time.”
J’Wan Roberts and Marcus Sasser delivered strong performances in the romp against Tulane.
Roberts scored a career-best 26 points on 9-of-10 shooting for his second straight game of 20 or more. Sasser (averaging a team-best 16.9 points) has compiled four straight such outings after scoring 22 points against the Green Wave.
“Ball movement, body movement, and all five guys on the floor who are unselfish,” Sasser said of the Cougars scoring 80 or more for the fourth time in five games. “It’s really good to play on a team where nobody cares who scores the ball.”
East Carolina has won three of its past four games, including Tuesday’s 62-60 road victory over Tulsa.
Jaden Walker scored a career-high 24 points on 8-of-11 shooting while playing all 40 minutes.
“The effort from Jaden Walker all-around, to play 40 minutes and play through foul trouble, I thought he was tremendous,” Pirates coach Michael Schwartz said.
Walker has recently emerged to fill the gap of point guard Javon Small, who will miss his 10th game due to a knee injury. Small leads the Pirates in scoring (15.8) and assists (5.6).
Walker had 18 points (then a career high) and a career-best 10 assists in Sunday’s 86-70 road loss against SMU before delivering again against Tulsa. He has scored in double figures in three straight games while shooting 73.1 percent (19-for-26).
RJ Felton added 14 points and nine rebounds against Tulsa as the Pirates prevailed despite shooting 39.6 percent from the field and 6 of 27 (22.2 percent) from 3-point range.
“Sometimes the way the game looks, the prettiness of the game is secondary to what the end-of-the-game result is,” Schwartz said.
This is the first meeting of the season between the teams. The Cougars have won 10 of the past 11 matchups.
–Field Level Media