COUGARS REPORT

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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