Houston races to a 22-point lead and then holds off UTSA, 66-64

The Houston Cougars edged past the UTSA Roadrunners and freshman guard Aysia Proctor, who scored seven of her team-high 19 points in the fourth quarter. – Photo by Tony Morano, courtesy of UTSA athletics

By Jerry Briggs
Special for The JB Replay

Other than playing an error-filled first half, the UTSA Roadrunners did just about everything that a team needed to do to win a basketball game. They showed hustle. They grappled on the floor with the Houston Cougars for loose balls.

They decisively won the battle under the back boards against a Power 5 opponent.

UTSA center Elyssa Coleman (left) battles Houston’s Djessira Diawara for possession. Coleman snared eight rebounds as the Roadrunners won the battle of the boards, 47-33. – Photo by Tony Morano, courtesy of UTSA athletics

On the offensive end, the Roadrunners knocked down clutch shots in the third and fourth quarters. In the end, though, it wasn’t quite enough as the Cougars built a 22-point lead in the first half and then somehow escaped with a 66-64 road victory at the Convocation Center.

“The obvious elephant in the room is that we got off to a tough start and just (made) too many turnovers … ,” UTSA coach Karen Aston said. “We talked about it at halftime. You know, our defense was fairly solid. I think we gave them some timely offensive rebounds and a couple of threes. But … they had 19 points in the half off turnovers.”

More specifically, Houston forced 16 first-half turnovers and outscored UTSA by a resounding 19-0 margin off the errors over the first two quarters. As a result, the Cougars juiced the lead to as many as 22 points three times. At intermission, it was a 20-point game.

Not to worry. In the second half, a Roadrunners team that has erased deficits of 11 and 15 points to win this year made a spirited run to get back in the game. At the end, they were looking at an eight-point deficit with 3:44 remaining — and still nearly pulled it out.

First, freshman guard Aysia Proctor and junior forward Elyssa Coleman made baskets to get the fans up on their feet. Kyra White’s elbow jumper with 50 seconds left turned the volume another notch higher.

UTSA guard Kyra White (right) faced intense defensive pressure and still produced 17 points, eight rebounds and five assists. – Photo by Tony Morano, courtesy of UTSA athletics

Then, finally, Sidney Love splashed a three with 18 seconds left for one of the best moments in memory in the Convocation Center, with people standing, cheering and throwing their arms in the air. UTSA was down by just two. The program’s first victory over a P5 opponent in 13 years seemed within reach.

“I just felt like we were in the game,” said Proctor, who led the Roadrunners with 19 points on nine of 11 shooting from the field. “I just felt like we could win it. Our team was hyped. We were locked in.”

For the Roadrunners, it wasn’t meant to be.

On Houston’s next possession, three UTSA players were trapping and had a Cougars player cornered on the boundary and the halfcourt stripe. Cougars coach Ronald Hughey called time out, just in time, because it appeared that the Coogs’ ball handler was about to be whistled for traveling.

Ultimately, Houston inbounded again with seven seconds left, made a few passes and then ran out the clock. UTSA could have fouled at least the last Cougars player with the ball but didn’t, for some reason.

Sidney Love (right, with the ball) takes it to the rim with the left hand. She finished with 13 points. – Photo by Tony Morano, courtesy UTSA athletics

In trying to recall the moments that stood out for her at the end, Aston pinpointed a missed shot from close range by the Roadrunners and then a play on the other end when her team failed to box out, allowing the Cougars to snare an offensive rebound that led to a couple of Laila Blair free throws.

“We have players that understand that block outs are important,” Aston said. “I don’t have to go back and say you should have blocked out. But I do think that not fouling there at the very end…like, we didn’t have a grasp that we had to foul. We need to be better at that, for sure.”

Once-beaten Houston, ranked 69th in the nation in the NET computer rankings, is due a large amount of credit for hanging on when the game seemed to be slipping away. Particularly, the two free throws by Blair were momentous for Houston’s cause. Both Blair and N’Yah Boyd finished with 14 points apiece.

UTSA players also deserve credit for showing fortitude after such a poor first-half. Proctor’s nine for 11 shooting was one individual highlight. Another was the overall hustle and grit of White, who finished with 17 points, eight rebounds and five assists. Love was another player in double figures with 13 points.

The Roadrunners entered the game 138th in the nation in the NET. Despite the loss, they might have helped their cause in the rankings because they held the Cougars to 20 points below their average. They also dominated on the glass, outrebounding the Coogs, 47-33.


A school spokesman said that if UTSA had won the game, it would have been the largest comeback in program history. On another historical note, UTSA hasn’t won a game against a Power 5 team since 2010 in a victory over Kansas State. The Roadrunners have lost 22 in a row in that span against teams from the five major revenue-producing conferences. The Cougars became a P5 program just this season when they started play in the Big 12.

First half

Pressing at every opportunity and forcing 16 turnovers, the Houston Cougars dominated the first half. They led by 10 points at the quarter and by 20 at intermission.

N’Yah Boyd scored all of her 11 first-half points in the second quarter as the Cougars opened a wide lead on the Roadrunners.

When UTSA pulled to within 11 at one juncture in the period, the Cougars sprinted away on a 12-1 run to open the first of three 22-point leads. Boyd capped the run with a driving layup and a three-point bucket.


Houston 8-1
UTSA 5-4

Coming up

UTSA at Oregon, Sunday, 2 p.m.

JB’s video replay

Kyra White passes to Sidney Love, who hits a three with 12 seconds left to pull UTSA within two. Houston hung on to win 66-64 after leading by as many as 22 points in the first half.

After taking a cross-court pass from Sidney Love, freshman Aysia Proctor dribbles into the paint and sinks a 12 footer.

Kyra White finds open space and hits a three-pointer during first-half action against Houston.

Freshman Idara Udo takes it to the basket and scores for UTSA late in the second quarter.

Monster rally in Houston boosts UTSA leading into C-USA play

Jordyn Jenkins. UTSA beat Idaho 76-69 in women's basketball on Saturday, Dec. 10, 2022, at the Convocation Center. - Photo by Joe Alexander

UTSA forward Jordyn Jenkins averages 20.6 points per game to rank 16th in the nation and first in Conference USA. The Roadrunners open C-USA play by hosting the Louisiana Tech Lady Techsters Thursday night. – File photo by Joe Alexander

By Jerry Briggs
Special for The JB Replay

More than a week has passed since a remarkable women’s college basketball game unfolded at the Fertitta Center in Houston.

In the beginning, the Houston Cougars roamed the passing lanes and pounced on just about every pass thrown by the young UTSA Roadrunners.

An early lead for Houston ballooned to 10. Then to 15. As UTSA kept throwing the ball away, the advantage for the home team widened to 21.

It was only the second quarter, and it looked as if the Cougars might win by 30 or 40 or more. Well, let’s just say that it didn’t quite work out that way.

With UTSA junior forward Jordyn Jenkins putting on a show en route to a career-high 35 points, the Roadrunners opened eyes by unleashing a monster rally, coming all the way back into a few second-half tie scores, before losing 93-89 in overtime.

In one sense, the Houston game is ancient history. It was played nine days ago. Before Christmas. Back before the arctic blast.

In the present tense, the weather has warmed again, and UTSA (2-7) is back home at the Convocation Center, hoping to start a winning trend to coincide with the start of Conference USA play.

Eager to put all those pre-conference losses behind them, Roadrunners are preparing to host the Louisiana Tech Lady Techsters (7-4) on Thursday night, before they entertain the UAB Blazers (8-2) on Saturday afternoon.

Their last game, nonetheless, remains top of mind.

Coaches and players keep talking about Houston. Aston played the tape of it for her players’ again on Tuesday morning.

The video showed two versions of the Roadrunners.

One of them failed to answer the call after the opening tip, committed numerous turnovers and eventually fell behind, 39-18, midway through the second quarter.

The other played with heart and rallied on a 32-11 streak over a 13-minute stretch that spanned the end of the second and most of the third periods.

That same team battled to the end, with standout performances from several players, including double-digit scoring efforts from Jenkins, Elyssa Coleman, Kyra White and Alexis Parker.

“We re-watched (the tape) this morning,” Aston said late Tuesday afternoon. “What I still don’t know is, what turns their motors on? I mean, I don’t know if they were nervous to start the game, or what.

“They looked a little bit frozen, and then — somewhere in the midst of the second quarter — we got our motors running.”

White, a junior from Judson, said the team still feels positive vibes from the Houston game, even though it will go down as a loss in the record book.

And even though UTSA lost some close games earlier in the season with inconsistent play in the fourth quarter, she said she has a good feeling about the team overall.

“Our last game was Houston, and we lost in overtime, but the game showed a lot for our team,” White said. “We showed grit. We showed fight. We just simply didn’t quit. It was a good way to leave before (Christmas) break.

“Coming back, we’re just trying to get everybody back under their feet and and ready to go play.”

From this point forward, every team that UTSA plays will have Jenkins’ name circled on the scouting report.

At Houston, she struggled early with the physicality of the Cougars’ defense, but she kept battling and hit 12 of 17 shots from the field.

In one stretch, she wowed the crowd at the Fertitta Center with deft moves that you might see in a pro game.

Once, while set up at the elbow, she pivoted, spun through traffic and flipped up a shot left-handed into the net.

In another sequence, she came down on the fast break, sweeping past defenders and into the paint, to score again with the left hand.

The right-handed Jenkins leads Conference USA at 20.6 points per game, while making 50 percent from the field and 40 percent from three.

She’s on a roll now, having scored 20 or more in five of her last six outings.

“She’s extremely skilled,” Aston said. “There’s no question. She works on her craft. I mean, she’s in the gym all the time (and) she wants to be great.

“The growth of our team is that we’re starting to figure out who can do what, and I think our team is comfortable knowing they need to get her the ball some.

“I’m not sure we knew that a month ago.

“For her, she’s making better decisions when she gets doubled. Right now, people are, I would say, picking poison against us.”

Aston said the team still needs other players to step up and contribute.

“We also need to see Elyssa Coleman get the ball a little more down low,” the coach said. “She was efficient when she got it (at Houston), and then, you know, we need to have (other) players make open (perimeter) shots.”

Coming up

Louisiana Tech at UTSA, Thursday, 7 p.m.
UAB at UTSA, Saturday, noon.

C-USA standings

FAU 1-0, 8-2
UTEP 1-0, 8-2
Middle Tennessee 1-0, 8-2
Charlotte 1-0, 5-5
Western Kentucky 0-0, 3-6
North Texas 0-0, 3-7
UTSA 0-0, 2-7
Rice 0-1, 9-1
UAB 0-1, 8-2
Louisiana Tech 0-1, 7-4
FIU 0-1, 5-5

Comeback falls short for the UTSA women as Houston wins, 93-89, in overtime

Guard Laila Blair knocked down six free throws in six attempts and assisted on a field goal in the final 1:27 Monday, lifting the University of Houston Cougars to a 93-89 victory over the UTSA Roadrunners.

Blair’s efforts helped Houston thwart a massive comeback by the Roadrunners, who trailed by as many as 21 points in the second quarter. The Roadrunners, behind junior forward Jordyn Jenkins, rallied on a 32-11 run to tie the game near the end of the third period.

As Houston pulled away again in the fourth quarter, leading by nine with a little more than a minute remaining, UTSA rallied again to tie and send the game to the extra period. Kyra White scored five points in the comeback and freshman Maya Linton sank two free throws with six seconds left to tie it, 80-80.

Houston’s Tiara Young missed a layup in the final seconds that could have won the game, but it bounced off the rim, and the Cougars failed to get off another shot.

In the overtime, Young opened the period with a jumper as the Cougars took the first lead. Jenkins followed by grabbing on offensive rebound and putting it back to tie the score. But when Young made both free throws with 3:35 remaining, Houston had the lead by two. Ultimately, the Cougars would never relinquish it.

Jenkins scored 35 points and pulled down 10 rebounds to lead the Roadrunners, who fell to 2-7 on the season and 0-5 on the road. UTSA is 0-2 in neutral site games. Tiara Young led the Cougars with 21 points.


UTSA 2-7
Houston 3-9


Scoring: UTSA — Jordyn Jenkins 35, Elyssa Coleman 15, Kyra White 12, Alexis Parker 11. Houston — Tiara Young 21, Laila Blair 20, Bria Patterson 15, Tatyana Hill 10.

Rebounding: UTSA — Jenkins 10, Coleman 5, White 5. Houston — Tatyana Hill 12, Tiara Young 4.

Team stats

Field goal percentage: UTSA, 32-61, 52.5. Houston, 28-66, 42.4.
Rebounds: UTSA, 44. Houston, 29. Offensive rebounds: UTSA, 13. Houston 10.
Turnovers: UTSA, 36. Houston, 22. Steals: UTSA, 12. Houston, 16.

Coming up

Conference USA opener for UTSA at Louisiana Tech, Dec. 29; UTSA at UAB, Dec. 31.

Houston ascends to No. 1 in AP basketball poll for the first time in 39 years

In 1983, Phi Slama Jama became all the rage in college basketball. Hakeem (formerly Akeem) Olajuwon, Clyde Drexler and Larry Micheaux made the sport a happening on campus at the University of Houston.

The Cougars reached No. 1 in the Associated Press poll en route to an NCAA tournament run that would take them to the national finals.

Thirty-nine years later, the Coogs have done it again. A team coached by veteran Kelvin Sampson and led on the floor by the likes of Marcus Sasser, Tramon Mark and freshman sensation Jarace Walker ascended on Monday to the top spot in the venerable poll.

“I’ve never been ranked No. 1,” Sampson, now in his 34th season as a coach, told the AP. “We were ranked all 12 years at Oklahoma. I’m sure we were ranked at Indiana. Then we’ve been ranked five or six straight years. We’re used to having a high level of success.”

The state of Texas is represented well in the latest edition of the weekly poll. Chris Beard’s Texas Longhorns are No. 2. Scott Drew’s Baylor Bears are No. 6.

North Carolina, ranked No. 1 all season up until today, lost last week to Iowa State and in a four-overtime game to Alabama at the Phil Knight Invitational. In the wake of those developments, Houston moved up after beating Kent State in its only game last week.

Sampson’s Cougars were denied a trip to the Final Four last spring when they lost an Elite Eight matchup to Villanova in San Antonio at the AT&T Center.

This year, they are 6-0 with victories over Northern Colorado, St. Joseph’s, Oral Roberts, Texas Southern, Oregon and Kent State. The Coogs haven’t given up more than 56 points in any of their victories.

Houston plays next on Tuesday at home when it hosts Norfolk State. The Cougars will face tough tests against Alabama and Virginia before opening American Conference play in late December against Tulsa.

AP Top 25 poll
Men’s college basketball
November 28, 2022

1. Houston 6-0
2. Texas 5-0
3. Virginia 5-0
4. Arizona 6-0
5. Purdue 6-0
6. Baylor 5-1
7. Creighton 6-1
8. Connecticut 8-0
9. Kansas 6-1
10. Indiana 6-0
11. Arkansas 5-1
11. Alabama 6-1
13. Tennessee 5-1
14. Gonzaga 5-2
15. Auburn 7-0
16. Illinois 5-1
17. Duke 6-2
18. North Carolina 5-2
19. Kentucky 4-2
20. Michigan State 5-2
21. UCLA 5-2
22. Maryland 6-0
23. Iowa State 5-1
24. San Diego State 4-2
25. Ohio State 5-1

Is it the barbeque? Villanova’s Wright adds a regional title to his run of NCAA success in Texas

Villanova's Jermaine Samuels celebrates with teammates after being named the most valuable player. Villanova beat Houston 50-44 in the NCAA tournament South Region on Saturday, March 26, 2022, at the AT&T Center to clinch a spot in the Final Four. - photo by Joe Alexander

Villanova’s Jermaine Samuels celebrates with teammates Saturday after being named the most valuable player in the South Regional. Villanova beat Houston, 50-44, and advanced to the Final Four. – Photo by Joe Alexander

Jay Wright, without a doubt, still calls Pennsylvania home.

He was born 60 years ago in Churchville, Pa., and he has worked for the past 21 years in Philadelphia as the head coach of the Villanova Wildcats.

Villanova coach Jay Wright. Villanova beat Houston 50-44 in the NCAA tournament South Region on Saturday, March 26, 2022, at the AT&T Center to clinch a spot in the Final Four. - photo by Joe Alexander

Villanova coach Jay Wright won NCAA titles in Houston in 2016 and in San Antonio in 2018. He added a regional crown on Saturday with a victory — in San Antonio, again — over the Houston Cougars. – Photo by Joe Alexander

Nonetheless, Wright’s affection for Texas continues to grow. After all, his Wildcats have stormed undefeated through six NCAA tournament games, two each on three trips into the state, over the past seven seasons.

Wright’s latest version of the Texas two-step came this week in San Antonio at the AT&T Center.

On Thursday night, Villanova downed the Michigan Wolverines in the Sweet 16. On Saturday afternoon, ‘Nova followed with a grind-it-out, 50-44 victory over the Houston Cougars, which clinched a South Regional championship and catapulted Wright past the Elite Eight and into next week’s Final Four in New Orleans.

In his other two visits to Texas, both of them to Final Four competitions, he won national championships in Houston in 2016 and in San Antonio in 2018. So, what is this all about, Coach Wright?

“I think barbecue,” he said in a deadpan reply. “I think we like barbecue. We love Texas. We really do. It’s always nice weather when we come down here. People are so friendly. I don’t know what to tell you.

“I don’t know what it is, man. We have played some great games down here against some really good teams, and we’ve come out on top.”

Forward Jermaine Samuels produced 16 points and 10 rebounds, and Caleb Daniels came off the bench for 12 points as the Wildcats out-battled the Cougars under extremely unusual circumstances.

The Wildcats survived and advanced in spite of adversity at every turn, namely a pro-Cougars crowd, 28.8 percent shooting from the field, 23.8 percent shooting from three and a glaring lack of offense from their two leading scorers.

Houston's Taze Moore gets the crowd going late in the game. Villanova beat Houston 50-44 in the NCAA tournament South Region on Saturday, March 26, 2022, at the AT&T Center to clinch a spot in the Final Four. - photo by Joe Alexander

Houston’s Taze Moore gets the crowd going late in the game. Moore led the Cougars with 15 points and 10 rebounds. – Photo by Joe Alexander

“I was proud of our guys,” Wright said. “Having experienced guys playing in that environment, like a true road game, them making a run, a really, really good team that you know can get on runs, and for (our players) to keep their composure and get a couple stops, hit big shots like Collin (Gillespie) did — having veteran players is the key to that, guys that have been in that moment before.”

Wright is thrilled to return to the Final Four, his fourth trip since taking over at Villanova in 2001.

“It feels great, man,” the coach said. “It feels great to be going back to the Final Four. It never gets old. It is a dream of every player and coach in college basketball. It’s the ultimate.

“We’re going to enjoy this. Tonight and tomorrow we’re going to enjoy this. We’re going to rest up, and then we’re going to get to work. We get to keep playing. That’s what we enjoy the most.”

South No. 2 seed Villanova (30-7) will play next Saturday in the national semifinals against either the Kansas Jayhaws or the Miami Hurricanes. In his heart, Wright knows that fifth-seeded Houston (32-6) could have been the team making the trip, and not his.

Villanova's Caleb Daniels puts up a shot. Villanova beat Houston 50-44 in the NCAA tournament South Region on Saturday, March 26, 2022, at the AT&T Center to clinch a spot in the Final Four. - photo by Joe Alexander

Villanova’s Caleb Daniels puts up a shot against Houston. Daniels finished with 12 points and six rebounds off the bench. – Photo by Joe Alexander

After all, the Cougars were brilliant defensively.

Not only did they hold Justin Moore to eight points and Gillespie to six, they also battled for rebounds with such tenacity that one Wildcats player compared it to “a street fight” under the backboard.

In the end, though, the Cougars could not overcome their own offensive foibles, which included 29.8 percent shooting from the field and 5 percent (1 of 20) from three.

More painfully, many of the Cougars’ shots, particularly late in the game, were good looks.

“Teams that cry care,” Houston coach Kelvin Sampson said. “There was a lot of tears in that locker room, coaches and players. This team’s been through a lot this year. I knew it was going to take a good team to beat us. And a good team did.”

Villanova made only two field goals in the last five minutes, both of them critical to the Wildcats’ success. The first was by Gillespie and the other by Samuels.

After the Cougars cut what had been an 11-point Wildcats lead to two, Gillespie stalled the momentum when he pulled up for a 15-footer with five minutes remaining.

Villanova's Jermaine Samuels shoots around Houston's Fabian White Jr. Villanova beat Houston 50-44 in the NCAA tournament South Region on Saturday, March 26, 2022, at the AT&T Center to clinch a spot in the Final Four. - photo by Joe Alexander

Villanova’s Jermaine Samuels shoots around Houston’s Fabian White, Jr. Samuels finished with 16 points and 10 rebounds. He hit 6 of 10 from the field. – Photo by Joe Alexander

Later, with the clock at 1:25, Cougars point guard Jamal Shead sank a transition floater, and Sampson called time out to set up the full-court press. Villanova inbouded successfully, pushed it up court and found Samuels on a driving layup.

It settled into the net with 1:06 remaining for a 48-42 Villanova lead. On the other end, Sampson appeared to be motioning to one official that Samuels should have been called for carrying the ball on the dribble drive to the hoop.

Never mind the argument. As the Cougars pushed it back downcourt, they got the ball to Kyler Edwards, who was fouled and hit two free throws. Four-point game. Fifty nine seconds remaining. Houston still had a chance.

On the Wildcats’ next possession, they got it to Moore, who drove into the lane and then veered out of the paint to his right. Suddenly, he went down, injured, and had to come out of the game.

Houston had the ball on the turnover, going back the other way, and Cougars guard Taze Moore saw an opening to drive right to left across the lane. It was a shot he had made before. But this one hit backboard and then rimmed out.

Gillespie grabbed the ball and started up court, only to get fouled. He hit two free throws with 25.7 seconds left for the final points of the game.

“First of all, congratulations to Jay,” Sampson said. “Villanova, I think they represent college athletics at the highest level, the right way. They’ve got a really good team.

Villanova's Justin Moore drives around Houston's J'Wan Roberts. Villanova beat Houston 50-44 in the NCAA tournament South Region on Saturday, March 26, 2022, at the AT&T Center to clinch a spot in the Final Four. - photo by Joe Alexander

Villanova’s Justin Moore drives around Houston’s J’Wan Roberts. Moore, the team’s second-leading scorer and a key defensive component, suffered an injury after a fall late in the game. His status for the Final Four is uncertain. – Photo by Joe Alexander

“But if you’d have told me before the game that we’re going to hold them to 28 percent from the field, (that) they’re going to shoot 23 percent from the three-point line, and we’d lose, I wouldn’t have believed you.”

Sampson lauded his team’s effort.

“Our kids guarded,” he said. “Man, did we guard. Our defense was spot on. It’s not easy to hold a team with that kind of — Gillespie, Moore, Samuels — everybody in their lineup can make a basket. Shoot, we held them to 50 points.

“We had a lot of opportunities. They didn’t go in. That happens.”

Taze Moore, a transfer into Houston from Cal State Bakersield, finished with 15 points and 10 rebounds to lead the Cougars. He was 6 of 21 from the field. Sampson said he didn’t think any were bad shots.

“We got down early, then we fought back,” Sampson said. “I think we had it to four, and we had a breakaway, and Taze missed one right there in the paint. Most of the shots he missed tonight were the same as he made against Illinois (in the round of 32).

“But that’s the way it goes.”

Villanova's Collin Gillespie shoots over Houston's J'Wan Roberts. Villanova beat Houston 50-44 in the NCAA tournament South Region on Saturday, March 26, 2022, at the AT&T Center to clinch a spot in the Final Four. - photo by Joe Alexander

Villanova’s Collin Gillespie shoots over Houston’s J’Wan Roberts. Villanova beat Houston 50-44 in the NCAA tournament South Region on Saturday, March 26, 2022, at the AT&T Center to clinch a spot in the Final Four. – photo by Joe Alexander

First half

It was a game of low-down, slow down in the first half, as the Wildcats emerged with a 27-20 lead on the Cougars at intermission.

Neither team tried to push the pace and both shot extremely poor percentages from the field — Houston (30.8) and Villanova (28).

The Wildcats were the aggressors early, jumping out to a 21-10 lead. Guard Justin Moore capped the run with a three from the top of the circle.


Houston was looking to advance to the Final Four for the second year in a row. But it was not to be. Part of it had to do with a lack of backcourt scoring. Shead scored 21 points and Edwards had 19 in a victory Thursday night over the top-seeded Arizona Wildcats. Neither were as effective against the Villanova Wildcats. Shead finished with nine points on 4 of 13 shooting. Edwards scored four on 1 of 12.


Villanova 30-7
Houston 32-6

Coming up

NCAA Final Four, at the Caesars Superdome, New Orleans, April 2-4.

Villanova celebrates with the South Region trophy. Villanova beat Houston 50-44 in the NCAA tournament South Region on Saturday, March 26, 2022, at the AT&T Center to clinch a spot in the Final Four. - photo by Joe Alexander

Second-seeded Villanova celebrates with the South Region trophy after downing fifth-seeded Houston, 50-44. – Photo by Joe Alexander

Culture of defensive excellence defines the Houston Cougars

Houston's Fabian White Jr. plays defense on Arizona's Bennedict Mathurin. No. 5 seed Houston upset No. 1 seed Arizona 72-60 in the NCAA tournament South Region Sweet 16 on Thursday, March 24, 2022, at the AT&T Center. - photo by Joe Alexander

Houston’s Fabian White Jr. defends against Arizona’s Bennedict Mathurin in the Sweet 16. White and the Cougars smothered the Wildcats 72-60. With the victory, Houston advanced to face Villanova today in the Elite Eight. – Photo by Joe Alexander

When the Houston Cougars emerge from the dressing room today, their reputation as a basketball team built on defense will precede even the first steps they will take in the layup line.

It’s a reputation known by everyone preparing to watch the NCAA Elite Eight matchup on television. By everyone on the streets scrambling to get a ticket for the game at the AT&T Center.

Houston coach Kelvin Sampson. No. 5 seed Houston upset No. 1 seed Arizona 72-60 in the NCAA tournament South Region Sweet 16 on Thursday, March 24, 2022, at the AT&T Center. - photo by Joe Alexander

Houston coach Kelvin Sampson hopes to lead his team to a victory today and a second straight trip to the Final Four. – Photo by Joe Alexander

And, perhaps most importantly, by their opponent — the Villanova Wildcats.

Heck, any fan who has ever followed teams coached by Kelvin Sampson over the past 25 years knows what the Cougars are planning to do today once the ball is tossed in the air for the opening tip.

From a team concept, each player in a Houston uniform will know the plan tailored specifically to stopping Collin Gillespie and the Wildcats.

Each will know the nuances in the offensive repertoire of Gillespie and everyone else in the Villanova rotation.

Moreover, each Houston player will expend effort on the defensive end as if it’s the last thing they do.

That is essentially what happened Thursday night when the Cougars dismantled the Arizona Wildcats in the Sweet 16.

Arizona, one of the slickest and most skilled offensive teams in the nation, at first was rattled.

Then it was completely shut down. In a 72-60 loss that ended their season, the Wildcats were held some 24 points below their season scoring average.

Houston's Ramon Walker Jr. (left) and Taze Moore celebrate late in Thursday's game. No. 5 seed Houston upset No. 1 seed Arizona 72-60 in the NCAA tournament South Region Sweet 16 on Thursday, March 24, 2022, at the AT&T Center. - photo by Joe Alexander

Houston’s Ramon Walker Jr. (left) and Taze Moore celebrate late in Thursday’s victory over top-seeded Arizona. – photo by Joe Alexander

As a USA Today columnist noted, “Houston’s physicality on every single play made things so difficult that Arizona quite literally didn’t know what to do.”

Since physicality is such an interesting word, sometimes conjuring images of an overly aggressive style of play, Houston forward Fabian White Jr. was asked Friday about the specifics of the description.

White had no problem with it.

“That’s just how we play,” White said. “We play physical. In practice, we barely call fouls. We dive on the floor, barely lose the ball in practice.

“That’s just our culture. We want to play physical and not make the game easy for the opponent. Yeah, I agree with that statement.

“We want to play physical as much as possible.”

As both teams’ players and coaches met with the media on Friday afternoon, Villanova coach Jay Wright summed up the challenge that his Wildcats will face, with a berth in the Final Four hanging in the balance.

“We know what an outstanding team we’re playing, (one) that’s got just great experience,” Wright said. “They were in the Final Four last year.

“You can tell by the way they play in these games, they are a very comfortable in this tournament setting. They’re very disciplined.”

In some ways, the Cougars’ commitment to defense overshadows some of the other elements of their success.

Villanova coach Jay Wright. No. 2 seed Villanova beat No. 11 seed Michigan 63-55 in the NCAA tournament South Region Sweet 16 on Thursday, March 24, 2022, at the AT&T Center. - photo by Joe Alexander

Two-time NCAA championship coach Jay Wright hopes to win today and advance his Villanova Wildcats to a third Final Four in six years. Wright-coached Villanova claimed NCAA titles in 2016 and 2018. – Photo by Joe Alexander

“I feel like they are underrated as an offensive team,” Wright said. “Everybody knows what a great defensive team they are, but I think they really find matchups to their advantage and execute intelligently, offensively, and part of their scheme is setting themselves up for offensive rebounds …

“We know we’ve got a lot of work ahead of us. We worked out this morning, and we still have work to do to get ready for the game tomorrow.”

Villanova, the No. 2 seed in the NCAA South region, has played a pretty salty brand of hoops in its own right over the past few weeks.

Employing a walk-it-up pace most of the time, the Wildcats have registered victories over Delaware, Ohio State and Michigan, holding opponents to an average of 59 points per game.

Even with Villanova’s play of late, not to mention its history as a two-time NCAA champion under Wright, it’s intriguing to see that oddsmakers are favoring Houston to win today.

The reason? Likely, it stems from the Cougars’ relentless effort on the defensive end of the floor.

“It’s just really impressive,” Wright said. “Every coach tries to get their team to play that way. You wouldn’t talk to one coach who would say, ‘You know, I don’t care if my guys play hard defensively. I don’t care if they play every possession like it’s the last possession of their life.’

“We all try to get our guys to do that. Kelvin gets his guys to do it .. They literally play every defensive possession like it’s the last possession of the game.”

No. 5 seed Houston upset No. 1 seed Arizona 72-60 in the NCAA tournament South Region Sweet 16 on Thursday, March 24, 2022, at the AT&T Center. - photo by Joe Alexander

The Houston Cougars’ hope their fans turn out in force today in San Antonio. Cougars’ fans made a difference in Thursday’s victory over Arizona.. – Photo by Joe Alexander

Houston shocks top-seeded Arizona in the Sweet 16

Houston's Jamal Shead, Kyler Edwards. No. 5 seed Houston upset No. 1 seed Arizona 72-60 in the NCAA tournament South Region Sweet 16 on Thursday, March 24, 2022, at the AT&T Center. - photo by Joe Alexander

Houston guards Jamal Shead (left) and Kyler Edwards have a moment after the fifth-seeded Cougars knocked off the top-seeded Arizona Wildcats 72-60 in the Sweet 16 Thursday night at the AT&T Center. – Photo by Joe Alexander

When Houston Cougars guard Kyler Edwards buried a three-point shot from the corner with a little less than eight minutes remaining Thursday night, he turned around and shouted at his teammates on the bench.

His teammates waved their fists and shouted right back.

Obviously, both Edwards and the Houston bench sensed that something big might be happening. They were right. Led by Edwards, Jamal Shead and others, the fifth-seeded Cougars upset the top-seeded Arizona Wildcats 72-60 at the AT&T Center in the NCAA Sweet 16.

Houston's Josh Carlton. No. 5 seed Houston upset No. 1 seed Arizona 72-60 in the NCAA tournament South Region Sweet 16 on Thursday, March 24, 2022, at the AT&T Center. - photo by Joe Alexander

Houston center Josh Carlton fights for the ball Thursday night at the AT&T Center. Carlton played against bigger players and finished with 10 points and seven rebounds. He was five for six from the field. – Photo by Joe Alexander

As a result, the Cougars will move on to play the Villanova Wildcats Saturday in the Elite Eight round of the tournament for the South regional title. The winner will advance to the Final Four next week in New Orleans.

“Our team, we’re a tough bunch,” Houston coach Kelvin Sampson said. “We’ve gotten a lot better as the season’s (gone) on. All the credit goes to these kids. You know, I can do whatever I want (but) the coach doesn’t win games. The players do.

“I’m really proud of this bunch. They bought into the game plan, and they’re not afraid of anybody. Whether it’s UAB or Illinois or Arizona. Our next game with Villanova, we’ll just move on to that one and do the best we can.”

Shead scored 21 points and Edwards had 19 as the Cougars (32-5) reached the Elite Eight round of the tournament for the second year in a row.

Houston coach Kelvin Sampson. No. 5 seed Houston upset No. 1 seed Arizona 72-60 in the NCAA tournament South Region Sweet 16 on Thursday, March 24, 2022, at the AT&T Center. - photo by Joe Alexander

Coach Kelvin Sampson led the Houston Cougars to the Final Four last year. This year, the Cougars are now one win away from making a return trip. They’ll play Villanova in the Elite Eight round for the NCAA South regional title on Saturday at the AT&T Center. – Photo by Joe Alexander

Villanova (29-7) beat the Michigan Wolverines 63-55 in the South region’s other Sweet 16 match-up earlier Thursday.

For Shead and Edwards and the Cougars, playing in an NBA arena in a tournament game against an elite opponent like Arizona was a big. A loud and boisterous crowd that filled most of the seats spurred them on.

“We liked how the crowd showed up today,” Edwards said. “The crowd brought all the energy today. They really helped us.”

Added Shead: “The crowd was electric.”

Shead and Edwards helped create some of the electricity. A sophomore from Manor, Shead had 21 points, six assists and four rebounds. Edwards, a senior from Arlington, had 19 points. He hit 6 of 13 shots from the field, including 5 of 9 from three.

Dalen Terry paced the Wildcats with 17 points and six rebounds. Bennedict Mathurin had 15 but he was 4 of 14 from the field. Seven-foot-one Christian Koloko had 10 points, four rebounds and two blocks.

First-year Arizona coach Tommy Lloyd said he thinks his team had a great year.

“Overall it was great,” he said. “I thanked these guys after the game. They’re an amazing group of guys. I’ll always be thankful for them. I think they helped me get Arizona basketball off to a good start in my tenure, and I’ll always be thankful for them.”

Houston's Ramon Walker Jr. No. 5 seed Houston upset No. 1 seed Arizona 72-60 in the NCAA tournament South Region Sweet 16 on Thursday, March 24, 2022, at the AT&T Center. - photo by Joe Alexander

Freshman Ramon Walker Jr. played 26 minutes off the bench against top-seeded Arizona. He held his own with five points and three rebounds. – Photo by Joe Alexander

The Wildcats entered the Sweet 16 on a seven-game winning streak. In their last 18 games coming in to the meeting against the Cougars, they had gone 17-1. In the end, they finished 33-4.

“I think we really built some foundational pieces this year that are really going to serve us well moving forward,” Lloyd said. “Extremely proud of the guys. Extremely proud of the coaching staff. We ran into a really good team tonight that was just a little bit too much for us.”

First half

In Game Two of an NCAA Sweet 16 doubleheader at the AT&T Center, the Houston Cougars on Thursday night used seven players in the first half and all played a role in building a 34-28 lead on the Arizona Wildcats.

At one point, the fifth-seeded Cougars were up by 10 points — 29-19 — on the top seeded team in the South region.

Houston's Jamal Shead. No. 5 seed Houston upset No. 1 seed Arizona 72-60 in the NCAA tournament South Region Sweet 16 on Thursday, March 24, 2022, at the AT&T Center. - photo by Joe Alexander

Sophomore Jamal Shead enjoyed a breakout performance for Houston against Arizona, scoring 21 points, passing for six assists and snaring five rebounds.- Photo by Joe Alexander

Kyler Edwards, a senior from Arlington, was perhaps the key player, holding Arizona star Bennedict Mathurin to five points and one field goal. Mathurin didn’t have a field goal until 1:33 left in the half.

Other standouts included Josh Carlton and Jamal Shead with six points apiece and Ramon Walker with five. Reggie Cheney had four. Both Walker and Cheney came off the bench to give the Cougars a lift.

Defensively, the Cougars were excellent. The Wildcats, one of the best offensive teams in the nation, were limited to 7 of 25 shooting from the field. Dalen Terry had eight points and Christian Koloko seven.

Highlights for the Cougars were plenty. Fabian White opened by hitting two straight shots from the field.

Carlton played with flair and finesse on the inside, snaking around taller and broader defenders to hit shots. Shead authored a key sequence with about six minutes left.

As Koloko fired a pass out from the post, Shead stole it near half court and sped the rest of the way for a layup. The play brought the Houston fans to their feet.

Houston's Kyler Edwards. No. 5 seed Houston upset No. 1 seed Arizona 72-60 in the NCAA tournament South Region Sweet 16 on Thursday, March 24, 2022, at the AT&T Center. - photo by Joe Alexander

Houston’s Kyler Edwards hit five 3-point shots and scored 19 points Thursday night against the Arizona Wildcats. Defensively, Edwards helped to guard Bennedict Mathurin, who was held to 15 points on 4 of 14 from the field. — Photo by Joe Alexander.

Sweet 16 is set to tip off in San Antonio; Michigan-‘Nova up first

Good afternoon, all. I just sat down at press row at the AT&T Center. Time to rap out a few notes on the Sweet 16.

First, the Michigan-Villanova game.

Michigan (19-14) hopes to win and advance to the Elite Eight for the 15th time (16 if you include the 1993 game, which was vacated because of NCAA infractions).

The Wolverines have advanced to the Elite Eight round recently in 2018, when the John Beilein-coached team swept into the Final Four and lost the NCAA title game to Villanova, and last year under coach Juwan Howard. Last year, the UCLA Bruins beat the Wolverines by two in the R8 to deny Howard his first trip to the Final Four as a head coach.

If Michigan wins, it would be the second year in a row that an 11 seed has reached the Elite Eight but only the ninth time since 1985. Since ’85, only five 11 seeds have made it all the way to the Final Four.

The Wolverines started the season with high hopes but fell into a funk during Big Ten competition, going 4-4 leading into the postseason. After losing to Indiana in the first game of the conference tournament, Michigan entered NCAAs as a No. 11 seed and defeated six seed Colorado State (75-63) and three seed Tennessee (76-68).

Villanova (28-7) is shooting for its 16th trip to the Eight, 17 if you count the vacated 1971 tournament. The Wildcats have reached the R8 four times previously under Coach Jay Wright, advancing in 2006, 2009, 2016 and 2018. The Wildcats won NCAA championships in both 2016 and 2018. The ’18 title was claimed at the Alamodome with a victory over Michigan.

The Wildcats enter the Sweet 16 on a high. They’ve won seven straight. They’re also 12-1 in their last 13 games. Seeded second in the South, Villanova downed (15) Delaware 80-60 and (7) Ohio State 71-61.

In the second game of the night, it’s Houston vs. Arizona.

Houston (31-5) is hunting its 14th trip to the Elite Eight. The Cougars made the R8 last season on the way to its first Final Four trip in 37 years. The Quentin Grimes-led Cougars lost in the national semifinals to the Baylor Bears, who went on to claim the NCAA championship. It was Houston’s first Final Four since the 1983-’84 days of Hakeem Olajuwon, Clyde Drexler and Phi Slama Jama.

Despite losing two star players around the first of the calendar year, the Cougars are hot coming into the Sweet 16. They have won five straight. In their last 12 games, they are 11-1. Houston won the AAC tournament in Fort Worth with victories over Cincinnati, Tulane and Memphis. Moving into the NCAA tournament, the Cougars drew a No. 5 seed and set out for Pittsburgh, where they downed the UAB Blazers, 68-53, and then knocked off four seed Illinois, 68-53.

Arizona (33-3) hopes to win and claim a 12th berth in the Elite Eight. The Wildcats last made it to the R8 in 2011, 2014 and 2015. Arizona is one of the hottest teams in the nation at the moment. The Wildcats have won seven straight. In their last 18 games, they are 17-1. Arizona defeated Wright State, 87-70, in the first round of the tournament at San Diego. The Wildcats outlasted the TCU Horned Frogs, 85-80, in overtime in the round of 32.

Sweet 16 will showcase a handful of elite offensive talents

Arizona’s Bennedict Mathurin, shown here dunking against TCU Sunday night, is the player to watch in the Sweet 16 at the AT&T Center.

The NCAA tournament’s Sweet 16 in the South region features a few individual offensive stylists on each of the four teams that could inspire even the most over-the-hill, couch potatoes to sign up for gym memberships in April.

Then again, some of your friends in the forever out-of-shape category may just want to tune into the games to watch the theatrics unfold, just for the heck of it.

Some, no doubt, will be inspired only to reach for another bag of chips, or for one more adult beverage — which is fine.

Regardless, we’ll explore this afternoon what both of Thursday night’s games will have to offer in terms of ball players who have the ability to score in streaks at the AT&T Center.

In the first game that tips off at 6:29 p.m., the 11th-seeded Michigan Wolverines will call on center Hunter Dickinson and guard Eli Brooks to do damage against the two-seed Villanova Wildcats.

They Wolverines will be tasked with slowing down some pretty good shot-makers on the Wildcats, as well, namely All-American guard Collin Gillespie and his backcourt mate, Justin Moore.

In the 8:59 p.m. nightcap, the high-flying, top-seeded Arizona Wildcats will showcase perhaps the most highly-rated player in the Sweet 16 in 6-foot-6 guard Bennedict Mathurin, plus a few other standouts, namely, forward Azuolas Tubelis and 7-1 center Christian Koloko.

The fifth-seeded Cougars, possibly the best defensive team in San Antonio this weekend, probably will prefer to play at a somewhat deliberate pace to keep the Wildcats from taking too many shots.

Also, the Cougars’ two best offensive threats — Marcus Sasser and Tramon Mark — are injured and out for the season.

Regardless, Houston will start guards in Kyler Edwards, Jamal Shead and Taze Moore who can shoot and play in transition in stretches if it’s necessary. They’ve also got center Josh Carlton and reliable veteran forward Fabian White, a career 49 percent shooter.

Michigan vs. Villanova

In the opener, Dickinson, a 7-foot-1, 260-pound sophomore from Virginia, has emerged as a player who has carried the erratic Wolverines to back-to-back victories for the first time in a few months.

A left-hander with a deft touch from all three levels, he produced 48 points on 16 of 23 shooting combined against Colorado State and third-seeded Tennessee.

In one of his best outings of the season, Dickinson had 27 points and 11 rebounds in a 76-68 upset of the Volunteers.

Michigan coach Juwan Howard, one of the best big men in the nation when he played for the Wolverines, talked about the potential for a good show between Dickinson and Villanova’s Eric Dixon.

Though Dixon is only 6-7, Howard lauded his skillset.

“I know they talked about the guard play from Gillespie and Moore and others,” Howard said. “But Dixon, when you’re a 6-7 center … sometimes you look at that as slight. But he’s not just a center. He’s a basketball player … a competitive basketball player built with a lot of strength, toughness …

“(He) can shoot the basketball extremely well … (He) plays with a high IQ.”

Villanova coach Jay Wright said that he recruited Brooks out of high school at Spring Grove, Pa. In that regard, the coach knows what Michigan’s 6-1, fifth-year senior will bring to the table.

“I did see him getting this good, and this is what we thought he would be,” Wright said. “That’s why we recruited him. As I remember it — I’m not always good at this, but he visited our place, and then he told us he was going to take a visit to Michigan and then made his decision.

“Then he called me and told me he was going to Michigan. That’s what I remember.

“Great, great kid. Great family. This is kind of what we thought he’d be. We thought he’d be a four-year guy and a great player and winner, (a)champion by the time he was done … it’s a shame we got to go against him because you root for a guy like that.”

Houston vs. Arizona

Mathurin emerged as a hot topic of discussion in media interviews — and some of it was for reasons that didn’t have anything to do with basketball.

The Associated Press published a story saying that Mathurin, the Pac-12 Player of the Year, communicated by email to the TCU athletic department in an attempt to apologize following reports on social media that indicated he might have made contact with a TCU dance team member after a round of 32 game in San Diego last weekend.

Mathurin, who scored 30 points to lead the Wildcats past the Horned Frogs, reportedly was bowing to the crowd after the 85-80 overtime victory Sunday night.

As he turned toward the tunnel, the AP story said, “he appears to be looking the opposite way with his arms still outstretched when his left hand goes near the woman’s chest, though it is unclear whether there is any contact.”

Asked to respond Wednesday, Mathurin told reporters, “Yeah, I actually sent an e-mail trying to reach out to the cheerleader and sent (it) through the TCU athletic department. I reached out to her, and that is it.”

He declined to answer a follow-up question about whether he recalled touching the dancer when leaving the floor.

“I answered your question,” Mathurin said.

Playing against the Horned Frogs, the sophomore shooting guard sank a 3-pointer to tie the game in regulation and then scored six more points in overtime as Arizona survived against ninth-seeded TCU.

“He’s the best guard we’ve seen,” said Sampson, a former San Antonio Spurs assistant coach under Gregg Popovich. “That’s not coach speak, that’s the truth. I was in the NBA for six seasons, and he’s an NBA guy.

“He’s not going to go in and be a role player. He’ll start. He’s going to get drafted so high that they’re going to start him.”

In the Cougars, the Wildcats will need to guard an array of talent that, as a group, averages 75.2 points. The Cougars shoot 47.1 percent from the field as a team, including 34.4 percent from three.

“I’m so impressed just with how (their) players do what they’re told to do,” Arizona coach Tommy Lloyd said. “Just the effort they play with. They max out every effort area. They’re well drilled on offense. They know the shots they want to take.

“They know who’s taking them, where they’re coming from, and they obviously do an amazing job offensive bounding. And then, defensively, the effort and energy they play with and attention to detail, it’s almost unmatched.”

With players buying into Sampson’s system, Houston ranks fourth in the nation in scoring defense (59 points per game), first in field goal percentage defense (37.5) and 11th in 3-point defense (28.8).

Nonetheless, the Cougars can also fill it up on offense, and the explosions can come from seemingly any position.

For instance, they have had three different players lead the team in scoring over the last five games.

In a span of three games at the American Athletic Conference tournament and two in the NCAA tournament, White and Edwards have led the Cougars in scoring twice, while Moore, who is usually a distributor, exploded for a season-high 21 in a 68-53 thumping of fourth-seeded Illinois on Sunday afternoon.

“Three-hour drive from home, we’re expecting a big turnout,” Carlton said. “But we also know Arizona … has a big fan base. We know their fans travel well, but we’re really expecting for our fans to show up.

“That’s the big benefit of having this game so close to home, being able to have the fans be there and support.


Game One: Michigan (19-14) vs. Villanova (28-7).

Game Two: Arizona (33-3) vs. Houston (31-5)

Houston wins, advances to the Sweet 16 in San Antonio

Not only did the Houston Cougars neutralize an All-American center, they totally outplayed the Illinois Fighting Illini in the backcourt on Sunday afternoon, scoring a 68-53 victory in the round of 32 in the NCAA tournament.

With the win, the Cougars advanced to the Sweet 16 for the third straight year. This time, they’ll play at the AT&T Center in San Antonio. Houston is scheduled to take on either Arizona or TCU in a South region matchup on Thursday.

Up in Pittsburgh, Houston coach Kelvin Sampson showed his emotions after his team’s 31st victory of the season, taking off his shirt in a dressing room celebration as Cougars players doused him with water.

“It was a good feeling seeing Coach take his shirt off and dance,” Cougars forward Reggie Cheney said. “This is something we have been working toward all year. It’s a great feeling just to let it out.”

In facing Illinois, the Cougars had to deal with massive center Kofi Cockburn, a first-team, All-American by the Associated Press. Cockburn had his moments with 19 points and 11 rebounds. A thunderous dunk by Cockburn midway through the second half turned heads.

“I don’t know how many points he got,” Sampson said. “I think the relevant thing is not how many points he had but how many shots he got. He had 11 shot attempts. That’s great defense. But our kids are tough kids. This is a tough program. That’s how we’ve achieved to this point.”

Houston countered Illinois’ powerful center with superb, all-around play, featuring a guard trio of Taze Moore, Jamal Shead and Kyler Edwards.

Moore had a season-high 21 points and seven rebounds. Shead had 18 and Edwards 15. All three of them made big plays in the second half, when the Cougars outscored the Illini 38-27.

For Moore, the game represented a slight change from his role of facilitator. He only had one assist on a day in which his teammates instead looked for him to shoot, and he responded by hitting 9 of 16 from the field.

“It just shows that they believe in me,” Moore said. “And I appreciate them, more than they ever know it, just because all those long nights that Coach Q (assistant Quannas White) worked out with me and Coach Sampson yelling at me, it shows they want it for all of us.”


San Antonio knows the song, all right. ‘Hail to the Victors’ was played a time or two in 2018 at the Alamodome when the Michigan Wolverines played in the NCAA Final Four.

The Wolverines will be making a return trip to the Alamo City this week.

Michigan qualified on Saturday for a trip to the Sweet 16 when it rallied with a 22-8 run down the stretch for a 76-68 upset victory over the third-seeded Tennessee Volunteers. Michigan will play either Villanova or Ohio State.