— Houston Men's Hoops 🏀 🐾 (@UHCougarMBK) March 20, 2022
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.