Charlie Pallilo: On UH winning, the Rockets on a roll going into the break and Astros talk
It didn’t quite wake up the echoes of Phi Slama Jama, but it was quite a night Thursday for the University of Houston basketball program. The Cougars taking down the 5th ranked team in the nation beating Cincinnati 67-62 doesn’t quite clinch an NCAA Tournament bid for UH, but the Coogs should feel free to order their dancing shoes. It will be just their second Big Dance appearance in the last quarter century.
Texas Southern’s Health and Physical Education Arena has served the Cougars well as a temporary home this season (and it’s a good thing because there’s a strong possibility the new Fertitta Center won’t be ready for the start of next season). UH is now 13-0 there. The joint wasn’t quite two-thirds full for Cincinnati, but the joint was jumpin’. Frankly the atmosphere was better than that at Toyota Center for most Rockets’ games—which is ridiculous given the Rockets’ magnificence this season, but whatever.
UH gets its 20th win of the season and has achieved something that even the final Phi Slamma Jamma team (1983-84) did not: beat 2 teams ranked 7th or higher in the national rankings. The win was the Cougars’ first over a Top 5 team since 1996.
Kelvin Sampson is simply an outstanding coach. His undersized team does the signature thing that most Sampson teams have done, reeeeally sink their teeth in on defense. Cincy is no offensive powerhouse, but the UH D absolutely suffocated the Bearcats who made one field goal over a 12 minute stretch in the second half.
Rockets on a roll
Behold the tedium of NBA All-Star Weekend! Nothing tedious about the Rockets. They are rightfully happy to have a week off, but it feels a bit like pushing the pause button on their tidal wave of momentum. Their second 10+ game winning streak of the season coupled with Golden State splitting its last eight games means for the first time ever the Rockets have the NBA’s best record at the break. 44-13! It would now take a borderline collapse for the Rockets to not break the franchise record for wins in a season. The ’93-’94 squad posted 58 wins. All these Rockets need to top that is a 15-10 finish.
Joe Johnson and Brandan Wright choosing the Rockets as buyout-free agents shouldn’t be that a big deal in bolstering the Rockets. Where is there regular significant playing time for either? Johnson played 31 minutes in his Rockets’ debut Wednesday, but Eric Gordon didn’t play and Trevor Ariza remains out. Wright should be an upgrade over Tarik Black as Clint Capela’s backup on the nights Nene sits out. The Johnson and Wright additions might be bigger in that the Rockets landing them means the Warriors, Spurs, Thunder, or other possible Rockets’ playoff opponents didn’t get them.
When the league comes out of hibernation next Friday there will be two compelling Western Conference races over the final seven weeks of the regular season. The Rockets and Warriors are in a match race for the top seed, then there are eight teams chasing the other six spots. The Spurs sit third best in the West, but may presently have the 10th best team. No sign of Kawhi Leonard returning. LaMarcus Aldridge and Manu Ginobili hobbled into the break. That the Spurs could wind up in the draft lottery just seems preposterous, but they are just three and a half games ahead of the 9th place Clippers and four and a half ahead of the 10th place Jazz who roared into the break on an 11 game winning streak. The Spurs’ preposterous run of 18 consecutive seasons winning at least 50 games may be coming to an end. Or, Leonard and Aldridge could both be healthy by mid-April and be a dangerous low seed.
Astros are back
We’re under six weeks to the Astros beginning their World Series Champion defense March 29th in Arlington. We’ll see how soon Manager A.J. Hinch settles upon Justin Verlander or Dallas Keuchel as his opening day starting pitcher. For the best of reasons there really are no compelling Astros’ storylines this spring. They are loaded both in the everyday lineup and on the pitching staff.
The silence is neither golden nor deafening re: absolutely no indication of the Astros attempting (or being rebuffed in an attempt) to talk contract extension with Jose Altuve. The reigning MVP is under contract this year as their 10th highest paid player (tied with Tony Sipp. Tony Sipp!). The Astros control Altuve with an option for 2019 that slates him to make less money than Pat Neshek among many, many others.
1. Cake doughnuts are much better than yeast doughnuts 2. I would try the luge but not the skeleton. 3. Favorite NBA All Star Game memories: Bronze-vacant Silver-vacant Gold-Magic Johnson in 1992