No. 2 Houston will seek to build on a six-game winning streak and make another statement to be the nation’s top team when it hosts Memphis on Sunday in a key American Athletic Conference clash.
The teams will meet for the first time this season, with a repeat battle set in the regular-season finale March 5 in Memphis.
The Cougars (24-2, 12-1 AAC) likely will climb back into No. 1 in the Associated Press poll for the third time this season if they can beat Memphis, thanks to losses this week by top-ranked Alabama and No. 3 Purdue. Houston captured an 80-65 road victory over SMU on Thursday behind Marcus Sasser’s 20 points, 17 of which came in the second half.
The Cougars sprinted away to a 14-point lead at halftime and pushed their advantage to 23 after Sasser hit for 12 points over the first 12 minutes of the second half. Houston held the Mustangs without a field goal, and just total four points, over a span of more than eight minutes in the middle of the half and never let SMU get closer than 11 points the rest of the way.
“We were really good for long time, like when we got up 23 points,” Houston coach Kelvin Sampson said. “When you get to almost the month of March the last thing I’m going to do is start slicing and dicing road wins. That put us 7-0 in the conference on the road and I’m proud of that.”
Jarace Walker added 14 points for the Cougars, with Jamal Shead hitting for 13, Tramon Mark scoring 11 and J’Wan Roberts grabbing 10 rebounds.
Houston owns a two-game cushion on top of the AAC standings with five regular-season games to play. Three of the five games are at home.
The Tigers (20-6, 10-3 AAC) stayed within shouting distance with a last-second 64-63 win over UCF at home on Thursday. A layup and a steal by Damaria Franklin with seven seconds left and a final defensive stand allowed Memphis to garner the victory, its third straight and eighth in its past nine games.
Elijah McCadden paced the Tigers with 16 points with DeAndre Williams adding 12 and Kendric Davis scoring 10 in the victory. Davis, who earlier in the contest became the AAC’s all-time leading scorer, left the game with a right ankle injury with 4:25 to play in the first half and did not return.
Memphis was up by 15 points but squandered that lead by not taking care of the ball. The Tigers committed a season-high 24 turnovers, seven more their past two games combined, and surrendered 32 points as a result of those miscues.
“I saw the momentum shifting and it seemed like we were trying to hold on instead of continuing to play,” Memphis coach Penny Hardaway said afterward. “I’m just trying to figure out how to continue to keep these guys uplifted during the timeouts. We got a little stagnant. To have 24 turnovers and still win, it just shows you what defense can do.”
Memphis will have to be better on both ends of the floor to beat the surging Cougars.
–Field Level Media