Houston had the opportunity to stay tied with Tulsa atop the American Athletic Conference but the No. 21 Cougars came up short 77-71 at UConn on Thursday night.
The inability to win a meaningful game on the road despite three 3-pointers made in the last minute — two by Quentin Grimes — caused coach Kelvin Sampson to be pensive about the stature of his program.
“I do think we have a good program, but this is a long way from being a high-level team,” Sampson said.
The Cougars’ previous four losses in the AAC were by a total of six points. They lost two of their previous four conference games by a point to SMU and Memphis while beating conference leaders Tulsa and Cincinnati.
Houston (22-8, 12-5 AAC) hosts the rematch with Memphis (21-9, 10-7) in the regular-season finale for both teams Sunday.
Grimes, who finished with 24 points against UConn, did not play when the Cougars lost 60-59 at Memphis on Feb. 22. He missed the game with a hip pointer.
Caleb Mills’ jumper with four seconds left was off the mark in that game. Houston missed its final four shots.
In the loss Thursday at UConn, Houston also had a breakdown late when the Huskies went on a 9-0 run to pull away with less than five minutes left.
“We kind let ourselves get sped up whenever the crowd got into it,” Mills said. “We’ve got to mature in that aspect of the game.”
Memphis is coming off a 68-60 win over Wichita State in its season home finale on Thursday.
Tyler Harris had a season-high 19 points — including five 3-pointers — and Precious Achiuwa posted his 17th double-double of the season (14 points and 16 rebounds).
The Tigers, who have won four of their past five games, committed only seven turnovers against the Shockers.
Memphis has an opportunity to finish in the top four of the AAC, which would earn the Tigers a first-round bye of the conference tournament next week.
“The guys knew this was a big game we needed,” coach Penny Hardaway said after the win over Wichita State. “They were locked in.”
Memphis took care of the ball after committing 24 turnovers in last weekend’s win at Tulane. The Tigers had only one turnover in the second half against Wichita State.
“We talked about taking care of the ball and getting back on defense,” said Achiuwa, a finalist for the Julius Erving Small Forward Award.
In the win over Houston last month, Achiuwa scored 10 points, including the go-ahead free throw with 28.2 seconds left.
–Field Level Media