COUGARS REPORT

Coogs heading to 3rd straight NCAA Tournament appearance, here's how they did it

Coogs heading to 3rd straight NCAA Tournament appearance, here's how they did it
The Cougars play their next game on Friday. Photo by Bob Levey/Getty Images.
Sampson's Cougars should have high aspirations after 23-1 start

Houston went into the American Athletic Conference Tournament as the No. 2 seed because Wichita State had a higher conference winning percentage during the regular season. Even though Houston and Wichita State split the regular season series 1-1, the Shockers had the better overall record on paper to secure the No. 1 seed.

"At 14-3 this year, we felt like you could have called us regular-season champions," head coach Kelvin Sampson said. "But (AAC officials) decided before the season started how they were going to do that."

It ended up working in favor of the Houston Cougars as they played three teams they have not lost to this season.

The AAC tournament started on Friday for the Cougars as they awaited the winner between Tulsa and Tulane.

The Green Wave got the best of the Golden Hurricanes and defeated them 77-70, setting up a Friday night date with the Cougars.

Houston played Tulane twice this season winning by 21 and 23 points respectfully.

Friday night's contest was no different from their regular season meetings, as the Cougars bested the Green Wave by a score of 77-52. It was not a very close contest but DeJon Jarreau did something historic.

The senior guard finished with 15 points, 10 rebounds and a career high 10 assists to finish with a triple double. This was the first triple double by a Houston Cougar since Bo Outlaw had one in 1993 against Texas A&M.

"The fact that it happens very seldom in college tells you how special the guys are who do get them," Sampson said. "I'm so happy for him because that's going to be a memory. His unselfishness, his toughness, those are the things that show in triple-doubles."

Their next game against Memphis proved to be their most difficult contest of the tournament.

The Tigers defeated UCF 70-62 to advance to the AAC semifinal.

Memphis and Houston played each other less than a week ago where Tramon Mark hit a last minute buzzer beater to secure a 67-64 victory for the Cougars.

The first half was all Houston as the Cougars took a 41-29 lead into halftime.

Boogie Ellis and the Tigers wouldn't give up as they fought their way back and cut the Cougars' lead to two points in the second half.

However, Houston's stellar defense was able to keep them in the game.

The Cougars forced the Tigers to commit 14 turnovers and Quentin Grimes led the way with 21 points. Justin Gorham added 15 points and Marcus Sasser contributed 14 as well.

The final was a 76-74 victory for the Cougars as Memphis struggled from the free throw line shooting only 55.6% and Houston shot 86.4% from the line.

Their final matchup was their third consecutive AAC tournament final against Cincinnati.

The Bearcats defeated SMU and Wichita State to reach their 4th consecutive AAC championship game.

Cincinnati won the previous two championships over the Cougars in 2018 and 2019. (2020 tournament was canceled due to COVID-19 reasons.)

The 2021 AAC championship game was not a close contest by any means. Houston took a 41-27 lead at halftime and didn't look back. The final 5 minutes of the game saw coach Sampson empty his entire bench.

This title mirrored that of the Cougars and Bearcats regular-season matchup three weeks earlier, when Houston won 90-52 at home.

The largest margin of victory in AAC tournament history was when SMU beat Cincinnati by 15 points in 2017. That record has now been shattered as Houston defeated the Bearcats 91-54. (A 37 point margin.)

For the second consecutive game, Quentin Grimes was the leading scorer with 21 points and was named MVP of the AAC tournament as well.

The Cougars are off to their third consecutive NCAA Tournament.

Just a few hours after Houston cut the nets down in Fort Worth, it was announced that the Cougars would be a No. 2 seed in the tournament and will face the Horizon League champions Cleveland State Vikings.

That game will be played Friday, March 19th at 6:15 CT on truTV.

Most Popular

SportsMap Emails
Are Awesome

Listen Live

ESPN Houston 97.5 FM
Have the Astros turned the corner? Photo by Jack Gorman/Getty Images.

One presumes the Chicken Littles have stopped clucking about the Astros’ season being a goner, or if not gone, on life support. It wasn’t when they were 7-19. It wasn’t when they were 12-24. It certainly isn’t now that they’ve won six straight games and eight of their last nine. Another three or four weeks of inept play could have doomed them, but the worm has turned. A 20-25 record is no cause for celebration, but it has the Astros within four games of first place. Yes, getting to play the A’s four times this week helped. And?

I detailed the schedule issue on our Stone Cold ‘Stros podcast this week. The Astros were flat lousy for the season’s first six weeks. But… Starting the week the Astros had played a whopping 32 of their 40 games against teams with a winning record as of Monday. The Seattle Mariners had played 23 such games, the Texas Rangers only 16. The Philadelphia Phillies have been sensational so far and are fully legit. But… The Phillies entered the weekend having played three games vs. teams now sporting a winning record. Three! Out of 45 games. Going into this weekend's series only the Blue Jays, White Sox, and Angels had played more games against winning teams than had the Astros. It’s not mere coincidence that the Blue Jays, White Sox, and Angels are the three last place teams in the American League. The Astros were not up to the challenge of their first quarter schedule, but by no means did it render them dead, particularly in the thus far Mild, Mild, American League West.

A good Brewers team visits Minute Maid Park for three games this weekend. The Astros beat their best starter Friday night. Next the Astros get the pathetic Angels here for three before a three-game series at Oakland. Meanwhile the West leading Mariners start a ten-game road trip this weekend: three at the excellent Orioles, four at the excellent Yankees, three at the respectable Nationals. The Astros stand a good chance of overtaking the M’s by the end of this month if they can win the four-game series they open Memorial Day in Seattle.

Meanwhile, the Texas Rangers snapped a five game losing streak Wednesday to eke back over .500 at 23-22. The reigning World Series champs hope to get somewhat well vs. the Angels in Arlington this weekend but dropped the series opener to drop back to .500. For their sake they better because the Rangers then hit the road for Philadelphia and Minnesota.

Naturally, many Astros fans are upset with Ronel Blanco serving a 10 game suspension for illegally using whatever substance on his glove and non-pitching hand. The suspension is basically automatic. The suspension is also not a big problem. Blanco has been fantastic since getting a starting rotation spot only because of Justin Verlander’s delayed start to his season. It’s said that all life owes us is opportunity. Man, did Blanco seize his. With just seven big league starts to his name before entering this season as a 30-year old, Blanco has made eight this season with a sparkling 2.09 earned run average. So, what’s that about the suspension is not a big problem?

Blanco will miss one start and have another pushed back a day or two. That’s just not a big deal. In fact it may be helpful in the bigger picture. With last year being the first time in his professional career that Blanco topped 100 innings pitched (125 1/3), the Astros need to be wary of Blanco’s workload which is on pace to blow past last year’s career-high innings total. J.P. France probably pitched over his head for a while last year, but went well past his prior career-high innings total and faded badly. Cristian Javier was tremendous in 2022 while pitching more than in any previous year, but he pitched even more in 2023 and faded badly.

Alex Bregman lives! After being nearly inconceivably inept through the first quarter of the season, the Alex awakening in the Oakland series was not shocking but most welcomed. Over his first 37 games Bregman had a paltry seven extra base hits. Even with a feeble .201 batting average and .534 OPS, that Bregman had scored just eight runs over those 37 games was hard to believe. Then Monday and Tuesday saw five extra base hits and four runs scored.

In a trade not commanding any headlines, Dana Brown Wednesday sent outfielder Corey Julks to the White Sox for 20-year-old low minor league pitcher Luis Rodriguez. There is now no reason to call it a great Astros trade but Brown made a smart deal. Julks had no future here, hence he would have been released if no deal was struck. Taking a flyer on a young arm can’t hurt. Frankly, the White Sox are dumb to trade a young arm of any promise whatsoever for a 28-year-old outfielder with limited value. Julks was a nice story for parts of last season. The Clear Brook High School grad and UH product had a couple windows of production, highlighted by a sizzling nine game 17 for 34 stretch straddling June and July. Alas, not two weeks later Julks began what would become an 0 for 36 nightmare. He was sent to the minors for good in late-August.

*Catch our weekly Stone Cold ‘Stros podcast. Brandon Strange, Josh Jordan, and I discuss varied Astros topics. The first post for the week generally goes up Monday afternoon (second part released Tuesday) via The SportsMap HOU YouTube channel or listen to episodes in their entirety at Apple, Spotify or wherever you get your podcasts.

SportsMap Emails
Are Awesome