Cougars respond with a win despite a rough week for the program

Caleb Mills will be stepping away from the program.Photo by Getty Images

It was an eventful week for the Houston Cougars to say the least. They suffered their first defeat and potentially lost one of their key players due to non-basketball related reasons for the remainder of the season.

Tulsa looked to play spoiler and upset the heavily favored Cougars at the Donald W. Reynolds Center on Tuesday, December 29th.

It was a back-and-fourth contest between Houston and the Golden Hurricanes that came down to the last shot.

Tulsa held a lead for the final 13 minutes of the game until Caleb Mills made a 7-foot floater with six seconds left to go. (More on Mills later)

The Cougars just had to stop Tulsa one more time to secure a victory and remain undefeated. Easier said than done.

Tulsa guard Brandon Rachal was driving down the court and got fouled by Houston center Brison Gresham at the rim.

The Cougars were well over the foul limit by this point in the game, so this sent him to the charity stripe. With one tenth of a second remaining Rachal calmly made both free throws to secure Tulsa's 65-64 victory.

This win lifted Tulsa's conference record to 2-1 and 5-3 overall. Houston (2-1, 7-1) won their first seven games handily with the closest win being a 9 point victory against UCF

The Cougars lost this game due to poor shooting on their part. Houston shot just 35% from the field, and three-pointers were hard to come by as they only made 4 of 21 total attempts as a team. Quentin Grimes and Marcus Sasser's poor shooting was apparent as they shot a combined 3-17 from beyond the arc.

This was the first time Houston was defeated this season on the court, but they may have suffered a bigger loss off the court.

Shorty before Sunday's game against SMU Head Coach Kelvin Sampson announced Caleb Mills will be stepping away from the program for personal reasons. No further details were given as to why the sophomore would be away for the team and even Sampson wasn't sure as to why his star player wouldn't be lacing up for the Cougars anytime soon.

"I don't know," Sampson said. "That's a very fair question. I talked to his father (Saturday). I care more about Caleb than whether he plays or not. Whether he plays or not is irrelevant to me in the big picture. I just want him to be comfortable. Between COVID and his injuries, he's just had a lot of stuff going on. Whatever they think is best for him, I fully support."

Mills averaged 9.8 points and 1.3 rebounds in four games this season and was the American Athletic Conference's preseason player of the year. He missed time with an ankle injury as well as missing time when the program paused due to COVID-19 concerns.

All is not doom and gloom for the Cougars; they were able to come back to beat their in-state rivals SMU 74-60 on Sunday.

The Mustangs got off to a fast start and took a 33-32 lead into halftime. SMU looked as if they were beating the Cougars at their own game with lockdown defense and out-rebounding Houston for the first 20 minutes of the contest.

Coach Sampson must have given his team a Michael Jordan-like speech in the locker room as they took off in the second half. Quentin Grimes got the second half party started by hitting a 3-pointer to ignite a 10-0 Cougar run and never trailed again.

"The second half, I just liked our execution, I liked the ball movement and I liked our rebounding," Sampson said. "We looked like a Houston basketball team."

Grimes had a better outing in Dallas than he did in Tulsa and finished with 11 points. Marcus Sasser led the team with 17 points and DeJon Jarreau added 15 points as well.

Beating SMU was a good return to form for the Cougars, but that loss to Tulsa hurt them in the polls. When Houston moved up to No. 5 last week, it was their highest ranking since the Phi Slama Jama days with Hakeem Olajuwon. Their lost to Tulsa moved them from No. 5 to the 11th ranked team in the country.

Up Next: The Cougars will enjoy some home cooking with five of their next six games at home, starting Wednesday night against Wichita State, both of whom are in a three-way tie for first place with Tulsa in the AAC.

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The Astros suffered a heartbreaking loss to the Yankees Thursday. Composite image by Brandon Strange.

After an impressive two-game sweep of the NL-best Mets at home earlier in the week, the Astros took to the road to begin a four-game series with the league-best Yankees on Thursday night. To little surprise, the series started with a bang (no, not a trash can bang) in more ways than one, confirming that this series should be a must-watch this weekend.

New York's comeback proves no lead will be safe

Right from the get-go, the loud Yankee Stadium faithful had their chance to rain boos down on Jose Altuve before showing some pleasure as he led off the series by being hit by a pitch. They were quickly, though only temporarily, quieted as Altuve would come in to score two batters later on a three-run blast by Alex Bregman.

Three-run homers seemed to be a theme, as New York would get one of their own to tie the game off the bat of Giancarlo Stanton to tie the game, then Yordan Alvarez continued his dominant June by pushing the Astros back in front by three with another three-run bomb in the third, making it 6-3. That lead held through to the bottom of the ninth, where instead of holding it, Ryan Pressly issued two walks to set up the fourth homer of the game to tie things again before Aaron Judge would get a walk-off single to complete the impressive comeback.

Not only will we get to sit back and watch the slug-fest between Yordan and Judge this weekend, but it looks like with Alex Bregman swinging well again to round out the top of Houston's order, the Astros may be getting closer to their full power. So far in June, these two teams sit third and fourth in on-base percentage, with the Astros at .351 and the Yankees right behind at .350. That means we should continue to see scoring opportunities on both sides that can tilt momentum one way or the other as these lineups try to battle against the opposing pitcher.

How will the aces fare

Verlander vs. Judge, and Cole vs. Alvarez, need I say more? Although we won't see Justin Verlander go up against Gerrit Cole in the same game in this series (they should go head to head next Thursday, however), they will pitch on back-to-back days, with Houston's ace going Friday night and New York's on Saturday afternoon. Verlander is coming off his worst start of the year, a three and two-thirds inning outing where the White Sox put up seven runs, four earned, against him and knocked him out early to give him his third loss and increased his ERA from 1.94 to 2.30.

The last time he faced the Yankees was in the Bronx in the 2019 playoffs, in ALCS Game 5, where he went seven frames while allowing four runs, all on two homers in the first inning, which is all New York needed to grab the 4-1 victory to make it a 3-2 Houston lead in the series, which the Astros would go on to clinch in Game 6. So, with the double dose of bad taste in his mouth, it will be interesting to see if he can use that as the fuel to get back to the phenomenal form he's had this year or if the Yankees try to jump on him early like they did nearly three years ago.

Cole, meanwhile, is fresh off of two quality starts in a row against the Rays, where he allowed just one run on six hits with nineteen strikeouts over 13.1 innings of work. He's had his share of strife this season, though, including a seven-run shelling by the Twins earlier this month, along with a start in April where he couldn't make it through two innings against the Tigers. He's had success against his former club, most notably a complete-game shutout in Houston last July with twelve K's and holding the Astros to just three hits.

If the series opener was any indication, we are in for the treat of a playoff-caliber matchup, if not a potential ALCS preview that we may see in October. The Yankees showed why they have the best record and are the hottest team in baseball on Thursday night, but the Astros were only a good outing from their closer away from having a relatively lopsided win. The rivalry is real; the competition is close, and we get to enjoy the show.

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