ON THE RISE

Fred Faour: Sampson's coaching at UH this season is nothing short of amazing

Kelvin Sampson has done a great job at UH this season. UHCougars.com

It has gone largely overlooked, but one of the best coaching jobs this city has seen in a while is happening at the University of Houston.

You probably have not noticed in a year where people are still basking in the Astros World Series win and riding the Rockets to record heights, but Kelvin Sampson and the Cougars have quietly completed an outstanding regular season, finishing 24-6 and tying for second in the American Athletic Conference, which is a solid basketball conference.

What Sampson has accomplished at UH is nothing short of amazing. The Cougars have not been to the NCAA Tournament since 2010, when a surprising C-USA tournament title run got them there. Even then, they would not have made it without winning the conference tournament.

They have not won an NCAA Tournament game since 1994, when Hakeem (then Akeem) Olajuwon was prowling the floor. They have been there just four times since that win.

Four times in 34 years. Just once since 1992. No wins.

The Cougars are not likely to win the AAC tournament this week. They will probably get Central Florida in the quarterfinals, and would also presumably have to beat both Wichita State and Cincinnati after that. But they did beat both of those teams in the regular season, and the Cougars are playing their best basketball now.

Regardless of what happens this week, the Cougars are headed to the NCAAs, barring a ridiculous snub. The Cougars finished the regular season with a 14-4 AAC mark. They had the same overall and conference record as Wichita State, which spent most of the season in the top 15.

Their overall resume is impressive. They have a 4-2 record against the top 50, 6-2 against the top 51. They have signature wins over Cincinnati, Wichita State, Arkansas and Providence, all top 50s. They are 2-0 against Temple, which is No. 51 in RPI. They lack a little in big road wins -- at Temple, Central Florida and SMU are probably their best -- but overall they had a strong season.

All six losses came away from Houston. They lost to the AAC’s Big 2 (Cincy and Wichita) on the road, which is no shame. Losses at LSU and Memphis were understandable, as those are adequate if not spectacular teams. The other two losses -- at Tulane and Drexel (neutral site) are head-scratchers.

Still, it is a resume that stacks up well. A run to the finals in the AAC tournament might even bump them as high as a five seed. The most impressive part of the Cougars’ season? They went 15-0 at home, which is quite the accomplishment, considering they played no real home games. The Cougars played at TSU while the Fertitta Center is being renovated.

That they have Sampson at all is a bit lucky. He has taken three other schools -- Washington State, Oklahoma and Indiana -- to the tournament and has 571 career wins. NCAA troubles ended his tenure at Indiana, and he wound up as an assistant with the Rockets. If not for those circumstances, Sampson would likely have never wound up at UH. He went 13-19 in his first year on Cullen, but has won at least 20 games in each of his last three seasons, taking his team to the NIT the past two seasons. This year they appear to have broken through to the NCAAs.

The Cougars could even win a game in the NCAA Tournament -- perhaps two with the right second-round matchup. They have a veteran backcourt, including star senior guard Rob Gray, and a collection of athletic bigs that have gotten better each game, as Sampson has molded this group into a team that plays hard and has been fun to watch all season.

And all thanks to a great coaching job, even if the average Houston sports fan has not noticed.

College Basketball Report: Week 16

The Baylor Bears' 23-game winning streak comes to an end against Kansas

Shaka Smart and Texas are fading fast. Jamie Squire/Getty Images

TEXAS LONGHORNS (17-11), (7-8)

Last week: (3-0): W - TCU 70-56, W - Kansas State 70-59, W - West Virginia 67-57

This week: Saturday vs. Texas Tech

The Texas Longhorns ended their four-game losing streak in a 70-56 home victory over the TCU Horn Frogs on Wednesday. Sophomore guard Andrew Jones recorded a career-best 21 points (7-14 FG, 3-5 FG), while freshman center Will Baker added a career-high 20 points in the win.

Up next, the Longhorns will prepare for an in-state match against the Texas Tech Red Raiders, after picking up two more victories against Kansas State (70-59) and West Virginia (67-57).

TEXAS A&M AGGIES (14-12), (8-6)

Last week: (2-0): W - Alabama 74-68, W - Mississippi State 87-75

This week: Tuesday vs. Kentucky, Saturday vs. LSU

The Texas A&M Aggies have found their stride with four games left before the start of the SEC Tournament. Last week, the Aggies won back-to-back games, picking up wins against the Alabama Crimson Tide and the Mississippi State Bulldogs.

In both games, Texas A&M received great production from their frontcourt duo of Quenton Jackson and senior Josh Nebo. Jackson led the way averaging a team-high 19.0 points 1.5 blocks and 1.5 steals, while Nebo averaged 17.5 points and 5.0 rebounds over the past week.

Up next, the Aggies will look to extend their winning streak on Wednesday, in a home match against No. 10 Kentucky Wildcats.

Houston Cougars (27-7), (11-4)

Last week: (1-1): W- Tulsa 76-43, L - Memphis 60-59

This week: Sunday vs. Cincinnati

After handing the Tulsa Golden Hurricane their worst loss of the season, the Houston Cougars dropped a heartbreaking defeat to the Memphis Tigers in a 70-69 loss Saturday afternoon.

In one of his best performances of his collegiate career, Houston's freshman guard Caleb Mills scored a game-high 21 points (7-14 FG, 2-4 3PT), while Marcus Sasser added in 18 points for the Cougars.

After a slow start to the game, the Cougars played from behind for a majority of the game, as they trailed 27-23 entering the halftime break. Although Houston won the second period by three (36-33), Memphis closed out the game in the final seconds, as forward Precious Achiuwa hit two go-ahead free throws with 28.2 seconds left.

With only one game on the schedule, the Cougars will return to the court on Sunday in a home match against the Cincinnati Bearcats.

RICE OWLS (13-15), (5-10)

Last week: (0-1): L- UTEP 68-62

This week: Sunday vs. Middle Tennessee

Despite leading by 13 points at the half, the Rice Owls were outscored 49-30 during the second period, as the UTEP Miners took a comeback 68-60 victory on Saturday.

The Owls held a 32-19 lead at the half which extended to 19 after a hot start to the second half. Unfortunately, Rice missed their next 13 shots as UTEP went on a 19-0 run to ignite a comeback victory over. The Owls also had no answer for UTEP's senior guard Daryl Edwards registered a career-best 34 points (11-22 FG, 8-12 3pt) in 40 minutes of action.

Following their most disappointing loss of the season, the Owls will take on Middle Tennessee on Sunday, inside Tudor Fieldhouse in Houston.

BAYLOR BEAR (24-2), (13-1)

Last week: (1-1): W - Oklahoma 64-54, L - Kansas 64-61

This week: Tuesday vs. Kansas State, Saturday vs. TCU

After extending their winning streak to 23 in a victory over Oklahoma, the No. 1 Baylor Bears dropped their first game since Nov. 8 in a 64-61 loss to the No. 3 Kansas Jayhawks, Saturday afternoon in Waco. Kansas' Udoka Azubuike determined to be too much for the Bears to handle, as the senior big man recorded a double-double of 23 points and a career-high 19 rebounds in the win.

With 6:30 left in the second half, the Jayhawks held a 10-point lead before Baylor embarked on a late-game surge. The Bears connected on back-to-back 3-point field goals and came within one (62-61) with 18 seconds left in the game. After two made free-throws by Isaiah Moss (who added in 13 points), Baylor's Jared Butler missed a potential game-tying 3-point field goal for a chance to send the game into overtime.

Up next, the Bears will look to return to their winning ways on Tuesday, in a home match against Kansas State.

TCU Horned Frogs (15-12), (6-8)

Last week: (1-1): L - Texas 70-56, W - West Virginia 67-60 OT

This week: Tuesday vs. Iowa State, Saturday vs. Baylor

After suffering a blowout loss at the hands of the Texas Longhorns, the TCU Horn Frogs picked up a much-needed victory in a 67-60 overtime win over West Virginia on Saturday. The win over West Virginia marked TCU's largest comeback of the season, as the Horn Frogs trailed by 10 early in the second period.

Only two players scored in double-figures with Kevin Samuel leading the way with 19 points (7-7 FG), eight rebounds, five blocks and two steals, while Both RJ Nembhard scored 16 points apiece on 50% shooting from the field. After the win, TCU will return to action on Tuesday in a match against Iowa State.

Texas Tech Red Raiders (18-9), (9-5)

Last week: (2-0): W- Kansas State 69-62, W - Iowa State 87-57

This week: Tuesday vs. Oklahoma, Saturday vs. Texas

Prior to picking up their largest win of the season in a 30-point victory over the Iowa State Cyclones on Saturday, the Texas Tech Red Raiders survived a 69-62 win over the Kansas State Wildcats on Tuesday. Texas Tech did so by out-shooting the Cyclones, as they connected for 50.0% of their shots from the floor.

With four triples on the night, Davide Moretti scored a team-high 18 points, while Jahmi'us Ramsey went for 17 points and Kyler Edwards added in 14 in the win. Texas Tech will return to the court on Tuesday for a BIG 12 match against the Oklahoma Sooners, before taking on the Texas Longhorns on Saturday.

SMU Mustangs (18-8), (8-6)

In what could have been an easy week for SMU, the Mustangs dropped back-to-back disappointing loss to the Tulsa Golden Hurrican and Tulane Green Waves.

In both games, the Mustangs defense was a no-show, as their opponents shot a combined 52.9% from the field and a sizzling 41% from behind the arc. In the loss against Tulane, four players scored in double-figures with Teshaun Hightower leading the way with a career-best 26 points on the night. Up next, SMU will look to end their two-game skid on Tuesday, in a match against the Memphis Tigers.

LSU Tigers (19-8), (10-4)

Last week: (1-1): L - Kentucky 79-76, W - South Carolina 86-80

This week: Wednesday vs. Florida, Saturday vs. Texas A&M

The Tigers came three-point shy from pulling off an upset, as the Kentucky Wildcats came away with a 79-76 victory over LSU. Despite a well-rounded team performance from LSU, the Wildcats' hot shooting gave them the advantage. Kentucky shot 74% from the floor while connecting on seven out of eight 3-point field goals during the second half.

After the tough loss, the Tigers bounced back with an 86-80 victory over the South Carolina Gamecocks. In the win, sophomore guard Javonte Smart led LSU in the win with 18 points, while freshman forward Trendon Watford notched a double-double of 15 points and 10 rebounds in the win.

Up next, LSU will return to the court on Wednesday to face off against the Florida Gators.

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