No. 1 Houston already has captured the outright regular-season title in the American Athletic Conference.
The Cougars (27-2, 15-1 AAC) clinched with a 76-57 victory Saturday at East Carolina, reaching 15 wins in league play for a second straight season.
“I’m happy for our kids to be rewarded with winning a conference championship,” Houston coach Kelvin Sampson said after the win over the Pirates. “That’s not easy to do.”
Houston still has plenty for which to play in Thursday night’s home finale against Wichita State (15-13, 8-8). It is senior night for guard Marcus Sasser, who leads the team with 17.0 points per game, and the Cougars are seeking their 10th straight win.
Putting together a lengthy win streak is challenging in a league in which four teams have at least 10 conference victories. But for the most part, the Cougars have made it look easy.
Houston’s success originates largely on the defensive end, where the Cougars lead the nation in scoring defense, allowing just 55.9 points per game. Opponents are shooting 35.8 percent against Houston, which is also the best mark of any team in the nation.
“Our team is getting better at certain things,” Sampson remarked after his team held Tulane to just 59 points, 24 below their average, in a Feb. 22 win. “We’re better at our point of attack defense, loading to the ball, our stunts; all the things we emphasize.”
The defensive emphasis figures to be key against Wichita State, which ranks third in the league in scoring defense. Opponents average 68.4 points per game against the Shockers, who played well in a 70-61 loss in the first meeting with Houston on Feb. 2.
That defensive intensity, along with the scoring ability showcased in Sunday’s 83-76 victory at Tulane, gives plenty of reason to not overlook Wichita State. In the win over the Green Wave, Jaron Pierre Jr. and James Rojas each eclipsed the 20-point mark, and Craig Porter Jr. recorded the sixth triple-double in program history with 15 points, 10 rebounds and 10 assists.
“Tulane is one of the best teams in the conference, so getting a win like this on the road is huge for us,” Porter said after the win, per the Wichita Eagle. “I’m super proud of these guys. We finally put that full 40 together and that should be a scary sight for everybody.”
After struggling out of the gate, with three straight losses in the first nine days of AAC play, coach Isaac Brown has his team on the rise with three wins in the last four matchups. One of the keys has been limiting turnovers, especially late in games. In each of their last two contests, Wichita State turned the ball over just twice in the final 10 minutes.
“A lot of games we have lost, it’s been (because we) turned the ball over at the end,” Porter told 103.7 KEYN radio after beating Tulane. “Lately, we’ve been trying to take care of the ball. We’ve been in every game since.”
–Field Level Media