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 Rockets selected Jalen Green with the No. 2 pick. Photo by Arturo Holmes/Getty Images.

The city of Houston can finally rejoice as Jalen Green was selected as the number two pick by the Rockets at the 2021 NBA Draft. It was already suspected that the Rockets would draft Green from past reports. Shams Charania of The Athletic already reported that the Rockets narrowed their decision down to Green.

Green is an explosive shooting guard that can get in-and-out amongst the perimeter and paint. With the G-League Ignite, he averaged 17.9 points, 2.8 assists, and 1.5 steals per game. He is an excellent free throw shooter at 82.9 percent. Like James Harden, he is incredibly good at getting to the free throw line. Green has a good trigger from three by shooting 36.5 percent on 5.7 attempts a game. His mature status since high school has prepared him for the NBA.

"His down-hill playmaking is really hard to guard", as Joey Fucca, his ex-coach told TDS. "If he says he's going to get to the rim, good luck. He is very good at getting to the free throw line, he is also very explosive to finish above the rim. When his three ball is on, you're just going to have a long night. I wouldn't be excited to guard him."

Green has blistering speed with outstanding handles to blow by his defenders and score. Spectators have compared Green to a younger Kobe Bryant, Tracy McGrady, Bradley Beal, and Zach Lavine, which are superstar players. He is a particularly good midrange shooter underneath the perimeter, as he shot 35 percent on a small quantity of attempts in a shorter season.

"Jalen is a uniquely blessed guy. He's a transcendent athlete," as Rockets GM Rafael Stone said. "He can handle the ball, and he can shoot. Normally, people that athletic aren't as skilled. We think that combination of tools makes him an extraordinarily exciting prospect."

During his press conference on Thursday night, Green emphasized the achievements he wants to accomplish with the Rockets. Green even discussed his desire of being a better defender, as he wants to continue to get better. He has a great wingspan and lateral movement to stay with opposing players on defense and be disruptive in the passing lanes.

"They're going to say it's a great choice," Green said. "Rookie of the Year, All-Star, All-Defense, max contract. We're doing it big."

"Yeah, I think I can be that piece. I think I'm going to bring that dominant mentality, that defensive mindset…They already got a lot of star players"

As the draft continued, the Rockets sent future draft picks from the Wizards to land the 16th pick in the draft, which was 6'10 Alperen Sengun from Turkey. The 16th pick did belong to the Oklahoma City Thunder until Rafael Stone executed an interesting deal with Sam Presti.

"We did not think he would fall to us at 23, so we were really aggressive to try and move up all throughout the first round to acquire him," as Stone said.

Sengun's abilities on the court revolve around his post ups and skillful passing. He even maintains good feet along the baseline. In his press conference, he mentioned his passing skills can become better. There are clips of him looking impressive on shovel passes, passing the ball behind his back, and finding the cutting man towards the basket. Sengun looked good in double teams by showing he can still find the open man with his back turned.

While playing in the Turkish Super League, Sengun was an MVP at 18-years-old, averaged 19.2 points, 9.4 rebounds, 2.5 assist, 1.7 blocks, and 1.3 steals per game. He could be another huge figure next to Christian Wood on the court, and a safety blanket for the Rockets if they cannot bring back Kelly Olynyk.

Usman Garbua is similar to former Rocket Luc Mbah a Moute. He is 6'8 with a tremendous wingspan at 7'3 and can guard anyone on the court, which is 1-5. Garbua was seen guarding Kevin Durant in the Team USA vs. Spain matchup and had interesting battles. The Rockets will get a ton of energy out of the 19-year-old player. He knows how to run the floor in transition, so he can finish around the rim. As I see it, he could be on a defensive first team in the future as he matures more. Garbua will become a defensive nightmare against opposing players.

"I think he's the best defender in the world outside of the NBA, and he's just 19 years old," Stone said. "I think he potentially could be really, really impactful on that side of the ball."

As the Rockets made their last selection, they selected Green's AAU buddy, Josh Christopher from Arizona State. He impressed a ton of scouts during his draft workouts and scrimmage against other prospects. Christopher had a double-double during his third scrimmage, which was 16 points and 10 rebounds. He is a very shifty guard with a ferocious step back.

While playing with the Sun Devils, he averaged 14.3 points per game and shot 49 percent from the field. Just like Green, he loved the midrange opportunities, as he shot 49.6 percent underneath the perimeter. He is another shifty big body the Rockets will have in their back court at 6'5. Christopher is very good at rebounding and playing defense. Stone loves watching him in defensive one-on-one situations. Christopher has Sixth Man of the Year written all over him because of his stocky body type and upside.

Hopefully, the Rockets have an exciting summer league and training camp along with their season.

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