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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Martin Truex Jr. won his 2nd race of the season last week. Photo via: Wiki Commons.

NASCAR returns to the Commonwealth of Virginia for the Toyota Owners 400 at Richmond Raceway. This is the first of two races here at this track as they will race on Sunday afternoon. This will be different from the normal night race they usually have here as this will definitely affect the racing surface considering how much the sun could make the track slick. It should be a fun race come Sunday.

Last week, Martin Truex Jr. passed Denny Hamlin to capture his second win of the season after rain moved the race to Sunday. He became the first driver to win multiple races after a fierce battle with his teammate Denny Hamlin. The race was filled with tons of wrecks including a fifteen car pileup including Brad Keselowski and Kyle Busch. It was one of the better races of the season as there was lots of beating and banging.

The race was not without controversy but not the kind you would expect. Early in the race Rick Ware Racing teammates Cody Ware and James Davison were involved in an altercation. The two were battling towards the back of the pack when Ware decided to drive through his teammate in turn four. The race got much worse for Cody Ware as he was involved in three more cautions all throughout the race. Many people around the sport were quite perturbed by his antics including broadcaster Mike Joy as he was audibly annoyed after Ware spun out later in the race. Many have questioned if the fifth-year driver should even be in the car and overall I can understand why some of those people think that. In his five years of driving, he has finished on the lead lap one time. I hope that he is able to figure it out and find success in the future, but this was not a good look.

The slump continues for two-time champion Kyle Busch

Throughout the race, Busch was running okay for the most part but towards the closing laps of the race he and Chris Buescher got together triggering a fifteen car pileup. Despite all this, he was able to rebound to a respectable tenth place finish. This has been more than likely the toughest stretch of his career since his championship in 2019. Many would say that the omission of Practice and Qualifying has really affected his performance. Whatever the issue is, this team really needs to find some speed, or he could be in danger of missing the playoffs. I look for this team to bounce back considering how talented he is.

Prediction

The driver that I have winning this week is Kyle Larson. This has been an incredible rebound season for Larson as he currently sits fourth in points. He is also second in laps led only to Denny Hamlin. Richmond has been a great track for him as it fits his driving style perfectly as he can run the outside line and find grip where others can't. This track is also rather sentimental to him considering he won his first pole award here during his rookie season in 2014. While he may not have the results he would want he has always been extremely fast here and even won back in 2017. I look for him to capture his second victory of 2021 come Sunday.

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