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.

Illinois, a No. 4 seed in the South, escapes Chattanooga

Coleman Hawkins blocked a shot and then rebounded when the last shot of the game misfired, boosting the fourth-seeded Illinois Fighting Illini to a 54-53 NCAA tournament South region victory over the No. 13 seeded Chattanooga Mocs.

Illinois led for only 25 seconds in the Round of 64 game played at Pittsburgh but managed to survive and advance to the R32. The Illini will play the No. 5 Houston Cougars on Sunday. The Cougars defeated the 12th-seeded UAB Blazers, 82-68.

Another victory would boost the Illini into a Sweet 16 game in San Antonio next week at the AT&T Center.

“It’s relief,” Illinois coach Brad Underwood said. “It’s relief. I told (Chattanooga coach) Lamont (Paris) they played better than us. And we just happened to have more points than them at the end, and we led at the right time.

“But it’s also encouraging, and very encouraging to be very honest, to know that, let’s see, Trent Frazier is 0 for 6, (Andre) Curbelo is 1 of 7, Da’Monte (Williams) was 1 of 3, and (Alfonso) Plummer was 5 of 12.

“And to know that we’re really good shooting team, and you guys all sat there and watched us shoot yesterday. You know we’re a really good shooting team, and we had a bad day, Kofi (Cockburn) is 50 percent from the free throw line, and we found a way to win.

“We held them to 20 second half points.”

Hawkins, a 6-10 sophomore from Sacramento, came up with some big plays at the end to bail out a team that tied Wisconsin for first place in the Big Ten Conference’s regular-season race.

Chattanooga blasted out of the chute to take a 20-6 lead nine minutes into the game. An upset looked likely until Hawkins and Cockburn, an All-America center, helped rally the Illini.

With two minutes remaining, Hawkins ran the floor and took a lob pass from Trent Frazier that he dunked to bring Illinois within one point of the lead.

With 48 seconds left, Hawkins missed a free throw but Cockburn rebounded and tossed in an 8-footer in the lane, putting his team up 52-51 with 46 seconds left.

On the next possession, Chattanooga’s Malachi Smith was fouled, hit two free throws and boosted the Mocs back in front, 53-52.

Illinois came back down court and got the ball to 3-point specialist Alfonso Plummer on the perimeter. Plummer drove, drew contact and sank two free throws with 12 seconds left for the last points of the game.

Trying to win on the last possession, Chattanooga went to Smith who drove and hoisted a shot that was blocked by Hawkins.

Smith retrieved the ball and shot again but missed. Hawkins snared the game-clinching rebound, and the final horn sounded.

It was sweet relief for fans of the Illini, who suffered last year when their team had an elite team and a No. 1 seed and was beaten by Loyola-Chicago in the second round.