Sophomore guard Quentin Grimes scored 15 second-half points, as the Houston Cougars close out their regular-season schedule with a win over the Memphis Tigers.

Grimes leads No. 21 Houston to comeback win over Memphis Tigers

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Trailing by four at the half, the Houston Cougars opened the final period on a 9-3 run led by sophomore guard, Quentin Grimes, who scored 15 of his 17 points in the second half. Behind Grimes, the Cougars outscored the Memphis Tigers 38-27 in the second half, en route to a 64-57 victory on Sunday, in front of a sellout crowd of 7,129 inside the Fertitta Center.

After picking up the intensity on both ends of the court, it was a come from behind win for the Cougars. Houston trailed for the majority of the first half shooting 22.2% from the field (0-5 3PT), including missing nine consecutive shots to close out the period.

"He [Grimes] struggled early in the first half. He does that sometimes, but you have to stay with it because I know how good he is. Sometimes they have got to get out of their own way," Cougars' Head Coach Kelvin Sampson said. "When he gets out of his own way and gives himself permission to go be a dominant player, he can do it."

Although Memphis also experienced their fair share of struggles from the field, the Tigers ended the half with a 30-26 lead, shooting 50% from the floor after a 1-for-10 start. Junior forward Fabian White kept the Cougars in striking distance scoring 14 of his team-high 18 points in the first half — to go along with 14 rebounds in the win.

"I was just playing for my team and especially for Y.G. (Chris Harris)," said White. "It's not us to lose two games in a row, and I don't believe we have since I got here. I wanted to keep that streak going."

In addition to Grimes, Nate Hinton stepped up huge in the win over Memphis, as the sophomore guard recorded 13 points and five rebounds in the win. In his final home game of his collegiate career, senior big man Chris Harris registered two blocks and three offensive rebounds.

"Perseverance. I've seen a lot of teams have bad shooting nights and do not have a foundation they can lean on to win," Sampson said. "It's allowing your standards to give you a chance to create expectations — we lean on our culture."

In the loss, Tigers' freshman Precious Achiuwa scored a game-high 25 points and 15 rebounds. In what has been a consistent theme all season, Memphis committed 17 turnovers in which Houston converted into 18 points.

Following the win, the Cougars end the regular season with a 13-5 conference record (23-8 overall) and as American Athletic Conference champions for the second straight season. Up next, the Cougars will return to the court on Friday to take part in the American Athletic Conference Tournament in Fort Worth. Houston earned a bye into the quarterfinals and will play the winner of SMU vs. Tulsa.

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Here's what the data tells us about Bregman. Photo by Joel Auerbach/Getty Images

Alex Bregman had a rough season in 2020 by his standards. He slashed .242/.350/.451 in 42 regular season games. His regular season included a trip to the 10-day IL for a hamstring strain he suffered in mid-August. His surface-level struggles continued in the postseason, where he slashed .220/.316/.300 in 13 games. However, that postseason sample size does include a tough luck game against the Tampa Bay Rays where he went 0-for-5 with five hard hit balls.

All-in-all, 2020 felt like a lost season for Bregman. He never really got going. He got off to a slow start, but he's always been a slow starter. Once he started to pick it up, he strained his hamstring, and he played poorly after returning from the hamstring strain. Then, he started to turn his batted ball quality around in the playoffs, but he hit into a lot of tough luck outs.

Hard Hit % - 33.6%

Barrel % - 3.9%

K% - 14.4%

BB% - 13.3%

Chase % - 18.1%

Bregman comes from the Michael Brantley school of hitters. He has elite plate discipline and elite bat-to-ball skills. This makes Bregman a fairly consistent hitter. That may sound odd considering his 2020 "struggles" but even an extended period of poor performance for him resulted in a .801 OPS and a 122 wRC+. If his valleys are still 22% better than the league average hitter, then that's a pretty reliable producer.

There aren't any alarming trends in Bregman's statistics. Yes, his K% was slightly up, his BB% is slightly down, but it isn't a massive difference in either category. His Chase % was up, but again, 18.1% is elite discipline. The biggest drop was in his Hard Hit%, where he fell from 38% to 33.6%. Even so, his average exit velocity only dropped .4 MPH, so there's not really a catastrophic trend here.

His .254 BABIP (Batting Average on Balls In Play) was low, but he's never put up really high BABIP numbers. In fact, his BABIP has gotten worse every year of his career, from .317 to .311 to .289 to .281 to .254. While his BABIP will likely spike back up next year, it isn't enough to be the difference between the 2019 and 2020 versions of himself. His xBA and xSLG weren't out of whack either. His .256 xBA isn't much better than his .240 AVG, and his .400 xSLG is actually worse than his .451 SLG.

Bregman is as forthcoming with his hitting mechanics, approach, and mental cues as any big leaguer out there. Here is what he had to say about his swing this year. This was a Zoom press conference with the media following the Astros game on September 25th against the Rangers.

Bregman says he wants to hit balls in the air to the pull side and on a line to the opposite field, but in reality, he was hitting flares to the opposite field and hitting them on the ground to the pull side.

The data mostly backs up that claim. In 2019, on balls hit to the pull side, Bregman had an average exit velocity of 90.7 MPH at an average launch angle of 16°, a 40% Hard Hit %, and a 16% HR%. Since Bregman has elite bat-to-ball skills, most of those metrics didn't change. In 2020, his average exit velocity was 90.6, essentially the same as 2019. His Hard Hit % was 42%, a touch better than in 2019. However, his average launch angle dipped from 16° to 11°, which contributed to his HR% dropping all the way to 9%. Bregman hit 47% of his pull side swings on the ground. In 2019, that number was 40%. He absolutely had less production to the pull side in 2020.

The data gets a little hazier going the opposite way when comparing 2019 to 2020, as Bregman actually performed slightly better to the opposite field in 2020 than 2019, but he also only had 20 batted balls to the opposite field all season. Considering the small sample size, it isn't worth diving too deep into the data.

He's right that most of the balls he hit that way were flares. He had an average exit velocity of 83.4 MPH with an average launch angle of 32°, but that's about the same as what he did in 2019. A lot of the statistical drop off comes from balls that were backspun rockets to the pull side in 2019 becoming top spinners or roll overs in 2020.

Bregman also performed horribly against breaking balls in 2020. He batted .150 with a .250 SLG against them in 2020. He had an 84 MPH Average Exit Velocity against them and whiffed 26.5% of the time against them.

It was a far cry from 2019, when he hit .265 with a .588 SLG, 87 MPH average exit velo, and whiffed 18% of the time.

Those numbers lend credence to his statement on his mechanics. It's tough for a hitter to have adjustability against breaking balls if he's blowing out his front side and pulling off of the baseball.

Bregman will spend the offseason working on these mechanical fixes and getting back to the hitter he used to be. If he's consistently hitting the ball in the air to the pull side next year, and he's performing better against breaking balls, then he should be right back in the mix for AL MVP.

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