With share of AAC title in sights, No. 1 Houston faces Tulane
The last time top-ranked Houston played Tulane, the Cougars maintained sole possession of first place in the American Athletic Conference by beating the second-place Green Wave.
Houston still sits perched atop the conference, and when the teams meet again Wednesday, the Cougars can clinch at least a share of the AAC regular-season title with another win over visiting Tulane.
The Cougars (25-2, 13-1 AAC), who ascended to No. 1 in the AP poll for the third time this season on Monday, have won seven straight and 16 of their past 17 games. Their latest victory was a 72-64 home decision against Memphis on Sunday.
“The makeup of this team is winners,” Houston coach Kelvin Sampson said. “These kids know how to win.
The Cougars have had a habit of building big leads, watching them shrink, then regaining command.
Such was the case against the Tigers, as Houston used a 17-3 surge to help build an 11-point halftime lead before watching Memphis get within four points with 15:55 remaining. The Cougars then went on a 9-2 run to take back control.
“We did a good job staying composed and handling their run and coming back and getting our run,” said Houston senior guard Marcus Sasser, who went 8-for-8 at the free-throw line, all in the second half, and wound up with 20 points.
J’Wan Roberts scored a career-high 20 points and grabbed 12 rebounds. The Cougars made just 3 of 17 3-point attempts but forced 18 turnovers that led to 22 points.
The Cougars followed a similar script in their victory against Tulane on Jan. 17 in New Orleans. That game was played during Houston’s second stint at No. 1.
Sasser scored the first eight points of the second half to extend Houston’s lead to 48-32. The Green Wave got within 54-49 midway through the half, but the Cougars scored seven straight points to pad their lead en route to an 80-60 victory.
Tulane, which regained sole possession of second place when Memphis lost to Houston on Sunday, earned its fifth win in a row by beating South Florida 84-66 on Saturday. The Green Wave took a five-game winning streak into the first meeting with the Cougars.
Tulane was playing its first game in 11 days on Saturday and looked rusty in the early going. The Green Wave missed all seven of their 3-point attempts in the first half but still managed a 35-31 halftime lead.
“I was worried about the start of the game because of the layoff,” Tulane coach Ron Hunter said. “I was happy to just be ahead at halftime, and the second half you could see us start playing like we normally do.”
Jalen Cook, who finished with a career-high 30 points, provided most of Tulane’s first-half offense by scoring 17 points. His teammates heated up in the second half, when the Green Wave scored 49 points.
Tulane, which matched its season low with four turnovers and added 11 steals, saw the lead shrink to 58-52 but responded with a 22-4 run.
“I’ve got some tough guys,” Hunter said. “We’re going to get after you.”
The Green Wave have matched their AAC win total from last season with five league games remaining.
–Field Level Media