Charlie Pallilo: It was a long time coming for UH in the NCAA Tournament

Charlie Pallilo: It was a long time coming for UH in the NCAA Tournament
Rob Gray twists for his final, game-winning shot Thursday night. Jamie Squire/Getty Images

In a college basketball equivalent to a Halley’s Comet sighting, the University of Houston won an NCAA Tournament game! It only took almost 34 years since the last victory. It also took Rob Gray being for one day the best college basketball player in America. Gray’s beautiful up and under layup through traffic with one second left gave the Cougars the 67-65 final margin, though since it was a 34-year wait I guess it was fair that UH had to survive San Diego’s way-too-good a look at a game-winning shot off of a 70 foot inbounds pass.

Gray finished with a career-high 39 points. Only Elvin Hayes has ever scored more for UH in an NCAA Tourney game (the Big E went for 49 vs. Loyola-Illinois in 1968). If you’re curious, Akeem (no H in those days) Olajuwon’s tourney high was 29. Clyde Drexler’s was only 21, which sounds low because it seemed like he had 21 dunks in the famed semifinal win over Louisville in 1983.

The Cougars have a very tough assignment with Michigan in round two Saturday but they’re playing with house money now, and it’s not as if #6 seeds ousting #3 seeds is highly uncommon.

The list of schools with an NCAA victory more recently than the Coogs before Thursday night was preposterously long: five of the eight Ivy League schools, Bucknell, Hampton, Montana, Siena, Southern, Vermont, Winthrop, Norfolk St., Coppin St., Morehead St., and North Dakota St. To name some of the more than 180 in all.

Tigers in tough

If Texas Southern beats Xavier Friday night it would be merely the biggest upset in the history of the tournament. It’s house money play for TSU too, which won a play-in game over North Carolina Central to qualify for the main draw as a 16th seed. It comes with an asterisk (or at least a footnote) but counts for the Tigers as their first ever NCAA Tourney win. TSU began the season playing 13 straight road games, and lost all of them. From an 0-13 start to the Big Dance. Knocking off Xavier basically would require a basketball miracle. Since 16 seeds came into existence with the expansion of the field to 65 teams in 1985, they are 0-134 against #1 seeds.

Not an upset?

If my team played your team twice during the regular season and in one of the games your team beat mine 57-50 and in the other yours beat mine 52-50 in overtime, would my team beating yours in a third meeting be a monstrous upset?

Upsets are a tremendous part of the history of the NCAA Tournament. Probably the two considered the most stunning are the 1983 and 1985 championship games. North Carolina State 54-52 over the Phi Slama Jama Houston team was a shocker. Two years later Villanova upending Georgetown 66-64 was an upset, but it is overrated as “one of the greatest upsets of all-time.”

The Hoyas were the reigning National Champions, and still anchored by Patrick Ewing. They had lost only two games all season, they occurred back-to-back by a combined three points (by one at St. John’s and by two at Syracuse). Georgetown and Villanova were Big East rivals with the familiarity with each other that comes with being conference foes who played twice per season. The Hoyas beat the Wildcats in the two regular-season matchups, by scores of 57-50 and 52-50 in overtime. So the third time being the charm for ‘Nova shouldn’t be considered some mind-blowing outcome. That it occurred in the NCAA Final makes it the stuff of legend, as does the fact that Villanova shot 79 percent from the field for the game. But it was not David felling Goliath.

Net Gaine?

The Texans have not opened free agency with a bang under new General Manager Brian Gaine, but at least they didn’t open with a whimper. Their pathetic offensive line has been upgraded, provided guard Zach Fulton is a much better addition then the last free agent offensive lineman the Texans signed away from the Chiefs. He should be. Jeff Allen should be a candidate to be released, especially with the Texans also adding former-Saint Senio Kelemete. At minimum the Xavier Su’a-Filo error should be finished. That was not a typo. Su’a-Filo was one of ex-GM Rick Smith’s hallmark lousy second and third round picks. He was the first pick of the second round and never became an adequate player. Among those drafted after Su’a-Filo in the second round of the 2014 Draft: Demarcus Lawrence, Joel Bitonio, Lamarcus Joyner, Jimmy Garoppolo, and Jarvis Landry. Oops.

Buzzer Beaters

1. The Rockets are now 85-90 percent to be the #1 seed in the Western Conference   2. If UH knocks out Michigan, it will be knocking out Wolverine point guard Muhammad-Ali Abdur-Rahkman   3. Other best names in this year’s Tournament: Bronze-Lourawls Nairn, Michigan St. Silver-Admiral Schofield, Tennessee   Gold-Seventh Day’Vonte Woods, North Carolina

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Coogs beat the Sooners, 87-85. Photo by Chris Gardner/Getty Images.

Jamal Shead hit a short follow shot with 0.4 seconds left and No. 1 Houston beat Oklahoma 87-85 on Saturday night, giving coach Kelvin Sampson a victory over one of his former schools.

Shead missed a driving layup attempt, but corralled the rebound and put the Cougars back ahead after they blew a 15-point lead. Emanuel Sharp tipped away a desperation pass by Oklahoma’s Milos Uzan as time expired.

“The main thing (on the last shot) was to get it to the rim,” Sampson said. “We weren’t going to shoot anything outside of 5 feet. There were three ways to win that game — a whistle, make the shot or (grab) an offensive rebound and put it in — and we got the third one.”

Sampson credited the result to Houston’s “winning DNA. We had a lot of things go against us tonight. … We were just plugging the holes in the boat up.”

L.J. Cryer led Houston (26-3, 13-3 Big 12) with 23 points, making 5 of 9 3-pointers. J’Wan Roberts added 20 points on 10-of-12 shooting, and Shead scored 14 points. Houston shot 56.7% from the field and Oklahoma was at 52.7%.

Rivaldo Soares had 16 points for Oklahoma (19-10, 7-9). Le’Tre Darthard had 15 points, finishing 5 of 7 from 3-point range.

Sampson coached Oklahoma from 1994 to 2006 and ranks second in program history with 279 wins and first in winning percentage (.719). Before Saturday, he’d never coached against the Sooners, but Houston’s entry into the Big 12 for this basketball season provided that opportunity.

Sampson received a warm welcome as he entered the Lloyd Noble Arena court, with many fans applauding, cheering and standing. Just before player introductions, Sampson and his three assistants with Oklahoma ties — former players Hollis Price, Quannas White and Kellen Sampson, his son — were individually recognized with announcements and pictured on the video board.

“The memories that I will take from here are just amazing,” Kelvin Sampson said. “Oklahoma will always be home in a lot of ways.”

Houston made its first week this season at No. 1 a successful one, with two wins. The Cougars are a game ahead of No. 8 Iowa State in the conference standings with two games left in the regular season and remain in the conversation for the overall No. 1 seed in the NCAA Tournament. Houston has won eight of the last nine games it has played as the No. 1-ranked team and is 35-5 overall while atop the AP poll.

Oklahoma dropped its second game of the week against a top-10 opponent, having lost 58-45 at Iowa State on Wednesday night.

The Sooners pushed Houston to the limit. Houston led 67-52 with 12:01 left, but the Sooners methodically closed that gap and Javian McCollum’s layup with 11.8 seconds left tied it at 85. It came after a hustle play by Uzan, who tracked down a rebound off a missed free throw and threw it off the leg of Sharp, allowing it to carom out of bounds.

Oklahoma coach Porter Moser said the vibe in the Sooners’ locker room was “tough. It wasn’t like they were happy to be close. They’re hurting. That’s a good sign. … That’s the elite of the elite and we’ve got to find a way to win that. That’s my job.

“I thought they were resilient battling back. Houston made tough shots, open shots, good shots. They do a lot of good things … but I thought we did too. We played the best team in the country, but we fell short. The margin of error when you play a team that good is small.”

Godwin went 6 of 6 from the field and led Oklahoma with 17 points, missing only the one free throw in six attempts as well. He also had seven rebounds.


Houston: Sampson surely appreciated the warm welcome from fans on his return to Oklahoma, but he’s undoubtedly glad to have the emotional game against the Sooners over with. Now he can push the Cougars to focus on finishing the regular season strong and prepare them for the postseason.

Oklahoma: A win over the nation’s No. 1 team might have pushed the Sooners up a line or two in NCAA tournament seeding, but the loss shouldn’t damage their postseason hopes too much. Oklahoma probably needs at least one win next week — at home against Cincinnati or at Texas — to stay comfortably off the NCAA bubble heading into the Big 12 Tournament.


Houston: At Central Florida on Wednesday night.

Oklahoma: Host Cincinnati on Tuesday night.

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