Houston steamrolls back into the top 10
After losing to Wichita State on Thursday, February 18th, the Houston Cougars have seemingly found their footing and are outscoring their opponents at unprecedented levels.
This week was no exception as both of their games ended up becoming blow outs starting with Western Kentucky University.
WKU was a last minute addition, for Houston did not have any opponent scheduled in between Cincinnati and University of South Florida (more on that game later.)
The Hilltoppers were looking to strengthen their NCAA tournament bid as they have barely played any of their Conference USA matchups.
Houston obliged and agreed to host the game at the Fertitta Center on Thursday, February 25th.
The game started off close and the Cougars only had a one point lead at halftime (39-38). But once Houston returned to the court from their locker room, Western Kentucky didn't stand a chance.
The Cougars went on a 42-19 run for the entire second half and built a lead that was insurmountable for the Hilltoppers to climb.
The leading scorer for the Cougars was guard Quentin Grimes, who notched a career high 33 points. The Woodlands native shot 8-16 from beyond the arc (also a career high) and led the Cougars to an 81-57 victory.
Grimes' game has been ascending at the right time as the American Athletic Conference Tournament and the NCAA Tournament are both coming up. His teammates have taken notice as Grimes continues to play elite level basketball.
"It's what Quentin does," Houston forward Justin Gorham said. "We know he's capable of it. We see it every day in practice and even in games. We trust Quentin to take the shots he takes, and coach (Kelvin Sampson) trusted him, so when he got going, we tried to feed him the ball, tried to find him and let him rock out."
Although Grimes was having a career night, head coach Kelvin Sampson was critical of one element of his game, his rebounding.
"He's a lot better when he rebounds," Sampson said. "He had six in the second half. I didn't ask for his autograph at halftime or tell him how great he looked. I told him if he wanted to be a complete player, he better play both ends and rebound, and that's what he did."
One thing Sampson couldn't criticize however was the defensive performance from both Grimes and the rest of his team.
Houston forced the Hilltoppers into 20 turnovers and turned that into 27 points. All of which were 3-pointers from Grimes.
"His confidence level is sky-high right now." Samson said praising his leading scorer.
Houston continued this scoring momentum into Sunday as the faced University of South Florida for their final home game of the season.
The Fertitta Center was rocking in front of a socially-distant crowd as the Cougars put on an offensive clinic.
Grimes picked up right where he left off and scored all 22 points of his points in the first half.
"When he gets hot like that, it's really amazing to watch," Houston guard DeJon Jarreau said. "I just want him to keep shooting because it's really a show. I enjoy watching it, and the whole team enjoys watching it. Whoever is hot, we try to keep feeding him."
Jarreau was the second leading scorer as he put up 16 points and added eight rebounds and six assists. He attributed his success and his team's excellence to their commitment to defense.
"Playing defense, we defended well," Jarreau said. "We made a lot of shots today. Coach Sampson always says that if we make shots and defend well, it will be hard for a team to beat us. With those two things coming together, it doesn't get any better than that."
Defense continues to be the backbone of this team as Houston forced the Bulls to commit 15 turnovers which resulted in 22 points.
The Cougars took a 56-21 halftime lead including a 26-0 run. Houston's starters only played sparingly in the second half as a Bulls comeback was highly unlikely to near impossible.
The final was a 98-52 victory and was the 2nd largest margin of victory this season behind their 66 point thumping of Our Lade of the Lake.
The Cougars have now won three straight games and have outscored their opponents by 38, 24 and 46 points respectfully.
This win secured their 24th straight victory at home and is also the 9th consecutive game Houston has won against USF.
Houston's offensive tirade comes on the heals of the AP essentially snubbing them from the top 10 after their narrow road loss to Wichita State last week. Coach Sampson and the Cougars seem to have taken this criticism personally and have stepped up their games tremendously. Houston now has their eyes set on the AAC tournament and are looking to secure at least the No. 2 seed in the NCAA tournament.
It was the final home game of the season for a couple of Cougars including seniors Jarreau, Brison Gresham, and potentially Fabian White who may have another year of eligibility. It could have been the final home game for Grimes as well, who looks to enter the NBA Draft after this season.
MOVING UP: Many teams fell in the AP rankings including, Alabama, Florida State, Oklahoma, Ohio State and Villanova which opened the door for the Cougars to jump from Number 12 to the 9th ranked team in the country.
UP NEXT: Houston has one final regular season game at Memphis Sunday, March 7th at 11am on CBS before starting the AAC tournament on Thursday, March 11th in Fort Worth.