THE COUGARS ARE ON A ROLL

Here's what is going right for the 5th ranked Coogs

The Cougars play again this Tuesday against Tulsa. Photo by Getty Images

After stopping play and pausing basketball activities for 15 days due to COVID-19 concerns, the Houston Cougars returned to the hardwood on Sunday, December 20th.

The team had a tune up game against Alcorn State on Sunday before starting conference play against the Temple Owls on Tuesday, December 22nd.

Both games proved to be easy victories for the Cougars as they defeated Alcorn State by 33 points and Temple by 26 points respectively.

Defense continues to be key for Houston

The biggest takeaway from these two games was Houston's commanding defense, which has become their best attribute. They held the Braves and Owls scoring totals to 55 and 50 points, and is the 6th time in seven games in which the Cougars' defense held their opponents scoring under the 60 point threshold. Houston has held opposing teams to 54.6 points per game this year. This is the fifth-lowest among all Division 1 teams.

Quentin Grimes was the leading scorer in both contests as he secured 27 and 22 points respectably in each game. He averages the most minutes and points per game for Houston this season, and is becoming the face of this Cougar team.

Houston looked to continue their winning ways and remain undefeated with their first true road test outside of Texas on Saturday the 26th against the UCF Knights.

There was no offensive magic in Orlando as the Cougars had to overcome a freezing cold shooting slump with elite level defense to beat UCF 63-54.

Head coach Kelvin Sampson was not thrilled with their performance as he compared watching their offensive struggles to watching Miss America walking across a stage and noticing she has a bunion on one of her feet.

"I'm not looking at the bunion," Sampson said. "That's a great road victory."

Marcus Sasser led the way with 19 points and Caleb Mills delivered 12 points off the bench. Through most of the game these two were the only bright spots on offense and this is the best Caleb Mills has looked all season after being named the American Athletic Conference's Preseason Player of the Year before the season started.

Although the offense was suspect throughout most of the game, Houston was able to come out on top with tremendous defense and hold the Knights scoring to only 54 points the entire game. In the second half, the Cougars prevented UCF from scoring a field goal in the remaining 8 minutes of the game with lockdown perimeter defense.

As good as Houston was defensively though, the Knights were just as tough on the Cougars.

UCF ramped up their defense in the second half by continuously switching their coverage strategy from man-to-man to zone; therefore, disrupting the Cougars offensive flow.

Houston was able to overcome this by shifting their offensive focus from perimeter shooting to obtaining more points in the paint. This worked for a while, but Houston was only able to pull away when the Knights got into foul trouble and the Cougars were consistently able to make their free throws. They went 11 for 11 from the foul line to finish the game.

Mills was the only Houston player to score any field goals in the final seven minutes of the game, and put the game away with an and-1.

One Thing to Note: The Cougars moved up to the 5th ranked team in the country after Iowa's loss to Minnesota booted them from number 4 to number 10 in the rankings. Only Villanova, Kansas, Baylor and Gonzaga rank ahead of Houston currently.

Kelvin Sampson also moved up by improving his career win total to 571 games. This victory ties him with John Beilein and Steve Fisher for 49th place in all-time coaching wins for men's college basketball.

Sasser, Grimes and DeJon Jarreau have become the best guard trio in college basketball, and they are winning not only by outscoring their opponents but also playing all-pro level defense. Expect all three to get some sort of defensive awards or nominations once this season comes to its conclusion

Up Next: Houston continues their road trip to face a 4-3 Tulsa team on Tuesday looking to play spoiler for the Cougars' magical season and make their own Cinderella run in the American Athletic Conference.

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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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